A teen girl from Tennessee remains missing more than two weeks after being abducted by her former teacher and investigators say they could be anywhere, even Mexico.
Story updated to include information released Friday, March 31, 2017.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation held a press conference on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 with an update on the search for 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas and Tad Cummins, a teacher fired from her school amid allegations of sexual interaction with Thomas and who now faces charges for sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping.
Thomas was last seen at 8 a.m. on Monday, March 13, 2017 when a friend dropped her off at the Shoney’s in Columbia, Tenn. Her parents reported her missing later that day and authorities confirm she was seen in Decatur, Ala. that afternoon. An AMBER Alert was issued the next day in both Tennessee and Alabama.
Investigators believe 50-year-old Cummins researched and planned the abduction of Thomas in advance.
“Our search efforts remain active and ongoing, but at this point we have had no credible sightings of either individual,” said TBI Spokesperson Josh DeVine. “To date the TBI has received more than 1,100 tips from across the country, 167 of those remain open at this point. That means that law enforcement officers across the country are doing due diligence work to make sure those leads are being tracked to see if those sightings can be substantiated.”
Elizabeth Thomas is white with blond hair and hazel eyes, 5′ tall and weighs 120 pounds.
Tad Cummins is a white male with brown hair and eyes, 6′ tall and weighs about 200 pounds. He may be driving his silver 2015 Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tag 976-ZPT. Investigators believe Cummins is armed with two handguns.
Anyone who sees Elizabeth Thomas, Tad Cummins or the silver 2015 Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tag 976-ZPT should call 911 immediately.
DeVine urged the public that if they are driving down the road and find themselves behind Cummins’ vehicle to do what they can to safely take a photo of the vehicle and call 911 immediately so local law enforcement can respond.
“Some have characterized this relationship as a romance. But this morning I want to caution the public to avoid anything that might look or sound like victim blaming,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “Let me be very clear this morning. She is fifteen, a child. He is fifty, a grown man. She is a high school freshman. He is a former teacher. This was not a romance. This was manipulation solely to benefit Tad Cummins. This is not a fairy tale. This is a case of kidnapping and we remain gravely concerned for the well being of this young girl.”
Gwyn described the situation as a well thought out, planned kidnapping.
The TBI announced on Friday, March 31 that investigators have confirmed Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas shopped at a Walmart on East I-240 Service Road in Oklahoma City, Okla. on the afternoon of March 15. A tip led investigators to obtain surveillance images from that store. Cummins used cash to purchase various food items, but did not purchase anything else of significance.
“The surveillance images of Cummins and Thomas clearly show Tad Cummins with an altered appearance to darken his hair,” the agency said. “The same images show Elizabeth may currently have red hair. Efforts to determine what vehicle they were traveling in remain ongoing.”
District Attorney General Brent Cooper said there is a possibility that Cummins has taken Thomas to Mexico and urged anyone who has friends or contacts in Mexico to share the AMBER Alert flyer. Cummins may even be posing as a missionary.
“The TBI remains absolutely optimistic about the outcome in this particular situation,” DeVine said. “It only takes one lead. It takes one tip. It takes one person seeing them, seeing the vehicle and knowing what to do to turn this thing around.”