CECILVILLE, Calif. (WKRN) – The former Tennessee teacher accused of kidnapping a 15-year-old student was arrested Thursday at a northern California cabin.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced Tad Cummins, 50, was taken into custody and Elizabeth Thomas was safely rescued in Cecilville, California, in Siskiyou County.
The TBI says they received a tip at 11 p.m. Central Wednesday night from a California resident who said he believed he saw Thomas and Cummins and had information they had taken up residence in a cabin in Cecilville over the last week and a half.
The man who called 911, Griffin Barry, says Cummins made up a story about being from Colorado.
He reportedly told Barry their home caught fire, and he and Thomas were in need of money.
“It was weird but I definitely had it in my head that they lost everything and were married because he always kept her away and talked for her,” explained Barry.
According to KDRV-TV, the pair was at the cabin for 36 hours when Barry saw a picture of them and realized who they were.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! Oh crap!’ So I was like, ‘What am I gonna do? Call the cops.'”
TBI spokesman Josh DeVine said they notified authorities in Siskiyou County, who had “challenges to overcome” in locating the pair. The area was a “very remote, isolated area with no or limited cell phone service.”
Deputies ultimately located Cummins’ Nissan Rogue, which had the license plate removed but was verified through its VIN number, and kept the SUV under surveillance for hours.
When day broke, Cummins was spotted and taken into custody without further incident after he walked out of the cabin on Eddy Gulch Road. Thomas was subsequently rescued.
Deputies said Cummins was cooperative and one law enforcement member said the former teacher made a spontaneous statement to him reportedly saying, “I’m glad this is over.”
Authorities added it was “obvious” Thomas and Cummins have a relationship and that the 15-year-old’s response to law enforcement kind of “escalated up and down.”
Thomas appeared to be in good health at the time of the rescue. She will receive any care that she may possibly need.
Two loaded handguns were found in the cabin, along with other personal items belonging both to Cummins and Thomas. A couple stolen license plates were also found.
Cummins will be arraigned Friday at 10 a.m. Pacific time. Thomas is expected to be reunited with her family in Tennessee in the near future and will fly back home on a TBI aircraft.
PHOTOS: AMBER Alert for Elizabeth Thomas
The TBI originally said the pair was found at a commune in Cecilville and later said it was a rural cabin.
At some point while in northern California, the pair did stay at the Black Bear Ranch commune for at least two days but were asked to leave, according to our ABC-affiliate KDRV-TV. Click here to read about Black Bear.
The two vanished from Columbia, Tennessee, on March 13. An AMBER Alert was issued across the state of Tennessee the following day, and Cummins was added to the TBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list on March 17. During the course of the investigation, the TBI said it received around 1,500 tips in the case.
The 50-year-old already faced one count of kidnapping in the case, which has since been upgraded to aggravated kidnapping. He now also faces a federal charge of transportation of a minor across state lines for the purpose of having criminal sexual intercourse.
Cummins could face eight to 12 years on the aggravated kidnapping charge and acting U.S. Attorney Jack Smith said the federal charge carries a required minimum sentence of 10 years behind bars, but the former Maury County teacher’s sentence could be “possibly quite longer.”
Cummins also faces one count of sexual contact with a minor from an incident that allegedly happened earlier this year. A student reportedly witnessed him kiss Thomas while at school in late January.
As of 6 p.m. Thursday, Cummins remained in the custody of the Siskiyou County jail where he’s being held without bond, awaiting extradition to Tennessee.
Maury County Schools, where Cummins taught until he was fired the day after he disappeared with Thomas, released a statement on the conclusion of the case.
School officials said Thomas’ safe return is “wonderful news for our community, and now, we can begin healing as a community, school district, and as families touched by the AMBER Alert.”
The statement continued, “Thanks go to all who have kept the message of finding Elizabeth Thomas and working on her safe return as top-of-mind throughout the nation. The efforts of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Maury County Sheriff’s Office, nationwide law enforcement community and media outlets promoting awareness of this case have brought us to this safe conclusion, and Maury County Public Schools wants to thank these many professionals for the good news today.”