Tip leads to safe return of AMBER Alert victim; ex-teacher Tad Cummins arrested
WASHINGTON - A man accused of running away with a former student has been found and arrested.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, Tad Cummins and and the girl* were located in Northern California.
The 50-year-old man and the 15-year-old girl were reported missing March 13 from Columbia, Tennessee.
"We couldn't be happier to tell you she will soon be on her way back home to Tennessee," Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said.
Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office spokesman Kelly Giordano says the capture of Cummins and rescue of the girl came thanks to a tip called into the department on Wednesday night.
Giordano says an officer responded to a tip Cummins' Nissan Rogue was spotted. The responding officer found the vehicle, which had no license plates. The officer ran the VIN number, which came back as Cummins' vehicle. The SCSO they mobilized their Special Response Team (SRT) this morning to Cecilville, where the vehicle was found. SRT officers found Cummins and the girl at a residence located near a commune in Cecilville.
Cummins did not resist arrest and was taken into custody just after 9 a.m. Thursday morning. He's currently in transit from Cecilville to the Siskiyou County Jail located in Yreka, California. The area where they were found is two hours away from the jail. Cummins will be held on charges of sexual conduct with a minor and aggravated kidnapping. He has a hold for his extradition to Tennessee, placed by the TBI.
“What happened in California this morning, however, proves it only takes one person to lead to a successful end. We are extremely thankful the hard work of all partners in this search has paid off,” Gywn said. “We’re also grateful for the public’s support and vigilance throughout this search effort.”
"At the end of the day she's 15 years old. She's 15 years old; she's a young girl that's with a grown man that's 50 years old. He needs to be held accountable for kidnapping this girl," Gwyn said.
Efforts to reunite the girl with her family were ongoing at the time of this post.
The last confirmed sighting was recorded in Oklahoma City, when the two were seen on security cameras inside a Walmart March 15.
Cummins faces charges of sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping. TBI said he was believed to have had two guns in his possession.
A photo and witness reported the former teacher had inappropriate contact with his student.
"We're so happy that California police worked quickly and were able to find them and get her safe," one of the girl's sisters told The Tennessean.
"I believe the FBI are going to make sure she's healthy before she comes home," she said. "We'll make sure she'll get what therapy she needs and that she's safe, that she knows she's safe."
A lawyer for the girl's family has said the teacher was allowed to continue working at the school for two weeks after he was reported kissing the girl. Attorney Jason Whatley has said the school system must have not believed the student's report.
The school's investigative files provided to The Associated Press by the attorney show that both Cummins and the girl denied kissing. The teacher, however, acknowledged that the girl was "a really good friend and she does leave her other classes to come see him when she needs someone to calm her down," according to a school report dated Jan. 30.
The report recommended that the girl be taken out of Cummins' class and that he be reprimanded to uphold his professional responsibility. The report also recommended that the administration monitor Cummins' classroom to make sure students weren't there when they weren't supposed to be.
The teacher would later be reprimanded on Feb. 3 by school principal Penny Love after the girl was seen in Cummins' classroom for a little more than half an hour that day. In her letter, Love said the girl being in his classroom was a violation of the principal's order to him.
The school system didn't suspend Cummins until Feb. 6. He was fired about a month later — a day after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an Amber Alert about the teen.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said it worked tirelessly for the past five weeks, looking into more than 1,500 leads from all 50 states.
Two days after the girl disappeared, surveillance images from a Walmart in Oklahoma City showed Cummins and the girl purchasing food items in the store with cash. The images showed Cummins had altered his hair to appear darker and the girl's hair may have changed to red.
The teacher's wife of 31 years has filed for divorce. Court records show that Jill Cummins sued her then-missing husband on the grounds of irreconcilable differences and inappropriate marital conduct. The wife, who works for the Maury County school system, said she had not seen her husband since March 13. The couple has two children together.
*Editor's Note: The name of the girl involved in this case has been removed from the original report because she is an alleged victim of a sex crime.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.