MAURY COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – An Endangered Child Alert was issued Tuesday afternoon for a 15-year-old girl missing out of Columbia–and it was quickly upgraded to a statewide AMBER Alert.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is searching for Mary Catherine Elizabeth Thomas, or Elizabeth, who was last seen on Monday after she was dropped off at the Shoney’s in Columbia by a friend around 8 a.m.
She was reported missing later that same day by her parents and is believed to be in the company of 50-year-old Tad Cummins, who is believed to be armed with two handguns.
Investigators said Wednesday they can place Thomas in Decatur, Alabama, just after 3 p.m. on Monday, though neither she nor Cummins have a known connection to that area. Since then, efforts to find them have been unsuccessful despite the TBI receiving 80 leads.
Surveillance video released late Wednesday night shows Cummins filling up his Nissan Rogue with gas just before picking Thomas up from Shoney’s.
Several days before their disappearance, the TBI said Cummins secured a title loan on his SUV, netting $4,500 in cash.
Cummins, a former teacher in Maury County, now faces charges connected to an alleged sexual interaction between him and Thomas at the school where he taught and where she was a student.
Maury County Public Schools has since released a statement on his dismissal, saying, “Maury County Public Schools suspended the Culleoka Unit School teacher involved in the law enforcement investigation once we were notified of the allegations. Since then, the teacher has been dismissed as a result of the investigation. The district does not tolerate any manner of behavior that is alleged in this incident and will take swift action to remove parties from school campuses who are involved with investigations of this type.”
Cummins was officially terminated from his position as a health science teacher on Tuesday. He began working at Culleoka Unit School in 2011.
On Wednesday, News 2 reached out to Thomas’ family who said they were too distraught to go on camera.
“There’s no way to describe the level of emotion and frankly fear that family has,” attorney and family spokesman Jason Whatley said. “At this point the young lady is under the spell, at least we presume, of another person. We are concerned she is in a very unsafe situation.”
He continued, “[There’s] no way to describe the emotion and frankly fear the family has at this point. [They’re] desperate for information that leads to the whereabouts of this child. We are praying desperately for her safe return. She is a great young lady, but more than that, she is a minor who is missing and who possibly in a situation that is dangerous for her.”
News 2 stopped by Cummins home on Wednesday. A woman answered the door and said she had no comment.
A next door neighbor said he knows Cummins as a husband, father and grandfather.
“Conversation I had with Mr. Cummins was always respectful and he appeared to be very dedicated and devoted to his family and his church,” Randall Scott said.
He continued, “He never made a sexual or derogatory remark about anyone at any time anywhere. Every conversation was pleasant. It is surprising to me – his academic level, a teacher – I’m surprised. He would take the situation to this level knowing the law as educated as he is. If Mr. Cummins is watching, I’d tell him to turn himself in – let the judicial system take its course.”
Thomas is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds. She has blonde hair and hazel eyes. She was last seen wearing a flannel shirt and black leggings.
Cummins is 6 feet tall and weighs 200 pounds. He has brown hair and eyes and was last seen driving a Silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee license plate 976ZPT. Anyone who spots the SUV and can verify the license plate should call 911.
If you have information on Thomas or Cummins, call the Maury County Sheriff’s Office at 931-388-5151 or the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.