US teacher accused of kidnapping student arrested

Tad Cummins, 50, a former Tennessee high school teacher accused of abducting a 15-year-old student in March.
Tad Cummins, 50, a former Tennessee high school teacher accused of abducting a 15-year-old student in March.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A teacher from the US state of Tennessee accused of kidnapping a 15-year-old student has been arrested in northern California and the girl was found safe, authorities said on Thursday (April 20).

Tad Cummins, 50, who had been sought for more than a month after he went missing with the teen, Elizabeth Thomas, was nabbed in a remote region on the border with Oregon thanks to a tip called in to a hotline late Wednesday.

"The caller indicated they had taken up residence in a cabin in a remote area of Cecilville, California, within the last week and a half," Josh DeVine, spokesman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), told a news conference.

He said although deputies faced challenges in reaching the isolated region, they managed to locate Cummins's vehicle and as daylight broke on Thursday they took him into custody and recovered Thomas without incident.

Several US media outlets said the pair were staying at a commune called Black Bear Ranch, which was featured in a 2005 documentary titled Commune.

According to its website, the commune was founded in 1968 "by a group of people who wanted to go back to the land, get out of the city and start a new life together in the mountains".

Cummins, who faces charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, went missing with Thomas on March 13, prompting authorities to issue AMBER alerts for the girl in Tennessee and Alabama.

The AMBER Alert Program broadcasts urgent bulletins on child-abduction cases.

"Our intelligence analysts and agents have worked tirelessly since issuing this AMBER Alert to process more than 1,500 leads from all 50 states," TBI director Mark Gwyn said in a statement.

"What happened in California this morning, however, proves it only takes one person to lead to a successful end." .

Cummins was a teacher at Thomas's high school in Tennessee and was fired for inappropriate behavior with the freshman student after another pupil claimed to have seen the pair kissing.

Gwyn's office said in a statement last month that a probe had revealed "a troubling pattern of behaviour 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". 

Authorities said prior to the pair's disappearance, Cummins had researched online the topic of teen marriage and had also tried to determine if features on his vehicle could be tracked.

His wife of more than 30 years, Jill Cummins, reported him missing to authorities after finding a note at their home.

She said in an interview on ABC television that she knew Thomas and thought her husband was mentoring the teen. She said the couple, who have two grown daughters, had even taken Thomas to church.

"She would come to him about her problems with her past," Jill Cummins said.

Authorities said Thomas would be flown back to Tennessee to be reunited with her family while Cummins would be extradited.