A Tennessee teacher accused of abducting a 15-year-old girl will be transferred to his home state to face charges in the case, according to reports.
Authorities arrested 50-year-old Tad Cummins late last week, some five weeks after he was suspected of kidnapping Elizabeth Thomas, a student of his at Culleoka Unit School near Nashville.
His attorney, Benjamin Galloway, argued Monday in federal court in Sacramento that the charges “do not involve force or coercion” and that the teen went with Cummins “on her own free will,” according to the Sacramento Bee.
The attorney said Cummins is “is looking forward to return to Tennessee as soon as possible,” to contest the charges, according to the newspaper.
Federal court documents filed Monday show that Cummins traveled through nine states, ultimately planning to take the teen to Mexico before he was captured last week in Northern California. During the 38 days the two were missing, Cummins “intentionally employed measures to elude capture by law enforcement,” switching license plates on his vehicle and disconnecting his GPS system, changing his physical appearance, using various identities for both him and the victim and paying in only cash, according to the documents.
As part of his “audacious scheme,” Cummins also used a small watercraft to conduct “a test run” for their trip to Mexico, according to the documents.
As The Washington Post reported, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation received a tip Wednesday night that Cummins and the teen, who was the subject of an Amber Alert, might be living in a mountain cabin near Cecilville, Calif., a onetime mining town about 100 miles south of the Oregon border. Tennessee investigators coordinated with the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, which found the silver Nissan Rogue belonging to Cummins and kept the vehicle under surveillance for several hours in one of the northernmost parts of California.
Then at daybreak Thursday, authorities captured Cummins and rescued the teen.
The saga began in mid-March, after Cummins handed over the title of his SUV, put up some other personal effects and walked out of a loan office with $4,500 in cash.
Court records show Cummins penned a note to his wife, telling her that he needed to leave town to think — then picked up his student and fled to California.
“From the moment the defendant was suspected of his improper relationship in early 2017, he began plotting his escape with the juvenile victim,” according to the documents.
The high school teacher was on the verge of losing his job and his freedom after he had been spotted kissing a 15-year-old student, according to the TBI. A criminal investigation was swirling, and authorities said Cummins, who was armed with two handguns, had little left to lose.
Investigators said the $4,500 helped the pair elude authorities during a manhunt that made national headlines. TBI investigators said Cummins, who had been the teen’s health teacher at Culleoka Unit School, may have planned to abduct Elizabeth well before he picked her up at a Shoney’s restaurant in Columbia, Tenn.
“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,” the agency said in a statewide Amber Alert issued the day after the girl disappeared. A few days later, the agency said that “having now been on the run for more than five days, Cummins may have taken her, frankly, anywhere.”
On March 13, video surveillance at a Columbia gas station showed Cummins filling up the same Nissan Rogue that was eventually spotted in California. A short time later, investigators say, he drove to the Shoney’s restaurant, where Elizabeth had been dropped off by a friend.
Investigators said they think Cummins manipulated the girl into leaving with him. He wasn’t authorized to take a minor, and she wasn’t old enough to consent. That afternoon, investigators say, they determined that Elizabeth was 80 miles away in Decatur, Ala.
After the pair’s disappearance, investigators said they received hundreds of tips from 24 states but not enough information to tighten the dragnet, despite a multi-state manhunt and Cummins’s placement on Tennessee’s most-wanted list. The TBI said Cummins might be keeping Elizabeth out of sight of authorities, possibly sleeping in his car or in a rural community.
The agency released new images of Cummins last month in an effort to keep the case in the spotlight. The pictures were from a week before Cummins and Elizabeth disappeared, and they showed him wearing a camouflage cap and pushing a shopping cart at a store.
Then came the call about Cummins’s car.
“What happened in California this morning, however, proves it only takes one person to lead to a successful end,” Gwyn, the TBI director, said late last week. “We are extremely thankful the hard work of all partners in this search has paid off. We’re also grateful for the public’s support and vigilance throughout this search effort.”
On Friday, Anthony Thomas, the teen’s father, told “Good Morning America” that he thinks his daughter was brainwashed. When authorities closed in on Cummins and Elizabeth at the remote cabin, Sheriff Jon E. Lopey told the Associated Press, Elizabeth was “laughing, crying and acting stoic.” The teen didn’t exhibit any anger toward Cummins, Thomas said: “I didn’t observe any emotional distress. She didn’t act like a rescued person would act.”
Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Gilley told CNN that Cummins expressed relief after his capture. “I’m glad this is over,” Cummins said, according to Gilley.
Cummins faces charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, authorities said.
Acting U.S. attorney Jack Smith said his office had also filed a federal charge of transportation of a minor across state lines for criminal sexual intercourse, which carries a minimum 10-year sentence.
This story has been updated.