Elizabeth Thomas, a missing 15-year-old girl from Maury County, Tenn., is believed to be in the custody of a teacher that was fired and now faces charges for sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping.
This story is updated to include information released through Tuesday, March 21, 2017.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Maury County Sheriff’s Department issued a statewide AMBER Alert on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 for Elizabeth Thomas, a juvenile missing from Columbia, Tenn. since March 13, 2017. Authorities believe 50-year-old Tad Cummins has taken Thomas and that he is armed with two handguns.
Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Elizabeth Thomas is asked to call 911. There is a $1,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
Cummins is a former teacher at Culleoka Unit School where Thomas is a student. He was suspended in February amid allegations of sexual interaction with Thomas, and then fired March 14 following an investigation by the Maury County Sheriff’s Department that resulted in a warrant issued for Cummins for Sexual Contact with a Minor.
“The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation remains extremely concerned for the well-being of Elizabeth Thomas, the victim in an ongoing AMBER Alerts in Tennessee and Alabama,” TBI said in a statement March 16. “Though the TBI cannot discuss specifics at this time, investigative efforts have revealed a troubling pattern of behavior by Tad Cummins, suggesting the 50-year-old may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom this vulnerable young girl for some time in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her.”
On Friday, March 17, the TBI announced Cummins now faces a charge of Aggravated Kidnapping and that the agency added him to its 10 Most Wanted list. The update expressed a new sense of urgency in finding the girl, saying, “It is believed the young girl, a student at the school at which Cummins taught until being fired this week, is in imminent danger. Cummins is believed to be armed with two handguns and should be considered dangerous.”
Elizabeth Thomas is white with blond hair and hazel eyes, 5’5″ tall and weighs 120 pounds. Between 7:30–7:45 a.m. CST on Monday, March 13, 2017, a friend dropped her off at the Shoney’s in Columbia. She was wearing a flannel shirt and black leggings.
Surveillance video appears to show Tad Cummins at the nearby Shell station, fueling his Nissan Rogue, at about 8:30 a.m.
The Maury County Sheriff’s Department entered Thomas as ‘missing’ in NCIC, the nation’s law enforcement internal communications database at 12:41 p.m. after her parents reported her missing.
Investigators placed Thomas in Decatur, Ala. at approximately 3:06 p.m. CST on Monday, though neither individual has a known connection to that area, and an AMBER Alert was also issued for Thomas in that state.
Tad Cummins is a white male with brown hair and eyes, 6′ tall and weighs about 200 pounds. He may be driving a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tag 976-ZPT.
The TBI released the following video of Tad Cummins shopping in the hair color aisle at Walmart in the week before the abduction of Elizabeth Thomas.
The TBI said it has received more than 650 leads.
“The low number of tips, combined with the limited resources Cummins is believed to have in his possession, leads investigators to believe he may be keeping her out of view of the general public,” the agency said in an update on Friday, March 17. “For example, he potentially may have them sleeping in the vehicle or Cummins may have driven them far away from Tennessee to a rural community. Having now been on the run for more than five days, Cummins may have taken her, frankly, anywhere.
“Investigative efforts, over the past few days, continue to reveal a troubling pattern of behavior on the part of Cummins, and indicates he potentially planned this abduction prior to Monday. Nothing investigators have learned about Cummins or his intentions for the young girl since issuing the AMBER Alert calms the imminent concern for Elizabeth’s well-being. In fact, it only heightens it.”
Investigators determined that on March 10, Cummins did online research about his Nissan Rogue in an effort to determine if certain features could be tracked by law enforcement. Investigators also determined that five days earlier Cummins researched the topic of teen marriage online.
The TBI encourages property owners – especially in rural areas – to search their grounds for the individuals, the vehicle, or any sign of suspicious activity. Those in campgrounds, parks, and other isolated areas should remain vigilant and on the lookout for any sign of Elizabeth Thomas or Tad Cummins. Large parking lots and garages should also be searched for Cummins’ silver Nissan Rogue.
TBI Agents are trying to piece together Cummins actions in the weeks preceding Thomas’ disappearance and discovered that Cummins took out a title loan for $4500 on a vehicle a few days prior. They would like to speak with anyone who recently interacted with Cummins or Thomas, call 1-800-TBI-FIND.