TBI: AMBER Alert suspect researched teen marriage before disappearing

March 22, 2017: An Amber Alert continues for a missing Middle Tennessee girl.

MAURY COUNTY, TENN. - UPDATE 7:30 p.m. TUESDAY

Tuesday marked one week since an AMBER Alert was issued following the disappearance of 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas. Investigators believe the Middle Tennessee teen is with her 50-year-old ex-teacher, Tad Cummins.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation stressed on Tuesday that it only takes one solid lead to bring Elizabeth home. 

The agency also revealed that the former teacher researched 'teen marriage' just a few days before he and Elizabeth disappeared. There have been no confirmed sightings since Monday, March 13.

Investigators have received only a few hundred tips. They believe that the pair could be anywhere in the country at this point and want nationwide vigilance to try and find them. 

TBI also revealed Tuesday that they have determined that hair dye purchased by Cummins was "not part of his intended plan" for Thomas. 

The agency also released a new picture of the pair at school in January 2017, just a few days before alleged inappropriate contact between the two. 

Everyone should remain on the lookout for the suspect vehicle, a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tags 976-ZPT. You should call 911 immediately if you see it. 

 

UPDATE 4:15 P.M. MONDAY: Despite receiving more than 450 tips, the TBI says there have been no credible sightings of a missing 15-year-old girl from Middle Tennessee and the 50-year-old man she is believe to be with. 

Because of the lack of confirmed sightings, officials believe Tad Cummins likely has Elizabeth Thomas hidden from public view or far away from Tennessee, TBI spokesperson Josh DeVine said Monday. 

"TBI would like to encourage property owners especially in rural areas to search their property for suspicious activity," DeVine said. He said they are also asking workers in campgrounds, parks and other isolated areas to search their land.

He said they're also asking businesses with large parking lots and parking garages to search them for a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tags 976ZPT that Cummins is believed to be driving. 

TBI released a new photo of Thomas, which is the most recent one they have. It shows her wearing a flannel shirt and black leggings. DeVine said they don't believe Thomas had many belongings with her when she disappeared, so it is possible she is still wearing the same clothes she was wearing when she was last seen on Monday, March 13.

 

 

Last Tuesday, The Maury County School District terminated Cummins, who had been a teacher there, in light of an investigation into alleged inappropriate contact he had with a student.

DeVine said TBI still has "no idea" where Cummins and Thomas may be. 

"Our message to Elizabeth is we're still coming for you. We're going to do everything in our possibility, everything in our capability to bring you home," DeVine said. 

DeVine said investigators are uncovering a "troubling pattern of behavior" from Cummins. 

"What we are learning about him is not calming our fears," he said. "[Thomas] is a victim. She may not realize it, but she is a victim." 

TBI also released surveillance video showing Cummins shopping at a Wal-Mart.

Cummins was added to the TBI Top 10 Most Wanted List on Friday. There is a $1,000 reward for information leading to his capture. 

DeVine said it is "very rare" for there to be no credible sightings for an AMBER Alert almost seven days old.

Anyone who believes they see Thomas or Cummins is asked to call 1-800-TBI-FIND or 911 immediately. 

UPDATE NOON MONDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released new pictures of a suspect on its Top 10 Most Wanted list who is the subject of an Amber Alert.

The TBI released the photos of Tad Cummins just before noon Monday. The photos of Cummins, 50, were captured a week before the kidnapping of Elizabeth Thomas.

Thomas, 15, was last seen in Columbia, Tenn., on Monday morning with Cummins.

 

 

UPDATE 6:30 P.M. SATURDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said it has received about 250 tips regarding the location of a missing Middle Tennessee teen. 

That's about 75 new tips regarding missing teen Elizabeth Thomas' location since Friday night's news conference. The TBI said those tips have now come from 24 different states. Officials said that number is low, and it suggests suspected kidnapper Tad Cummins could be keeping Thomas out of sight. 

The TBI has also announced a $1,000 reward for information leading to Cummins' capture. 

 

UPDATE 8 P.M. FRIDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has added the suspect of a Middle Tennessee AMBER Alert to its Top 10 Most Wanted list

Tad Cummins, 50, was last seen in Columbia, Tennessee, on Monday morning with 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas. 

The TBI also shared new photos Cummins taken in the past few weeks before he disappeared, and the vehicle he's believed to be driving. 

 

 

A TBI spokesperson called the situation "very dire" at a Friday news conference. He said officials have "no idea" where Cummins and Thomas are, and asked for the public's help across the country in locating them.

UPDATE 5:15 PM FRIDAY: The wife of a man sought in the kidnapping of a 15-year-old Maury County girl pleaded Friday afternoon for her husband to turn himself in.

"Tad, this is not you," Jill Cummins said during a Friday afternoon press conference staged at the Maury County Sheriff's Office. "This is not who you are. We can help you get through this, no matter how far you've gone or what’s happening right now. God’s grace is sufficient for you and he wants you to come home. Your family wants their poppy back."

Her voice breaking, Jill Cummins added: "Please do the right thing and turn yourself into the police and bring Beth back home."

Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas have not been seen in four days. An AMBER Alert has been issued for her.

Prosecutors have authorized a new charge against Cummins - aggravated kidnapping, said District Attorney General Brent Cooper.

Josh DeVIne, TBI spokesman, said Friday at the press conference that the agency so far has received about 175 tips. That's "shockingly" low, he said.

"We have no idea where these individuals could be right now," he said. "This is a dire situation for this girl right now."

DeVine said the TBI hoped hearing from his wife directly would sway Cummins.

Cummins has firearms, which raises further concerns for investigators, DeVine said.

VIDEO: Full TBI news conference on search for Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas

Jill Cummins told reporters she was "deeply troubled" by her husband's disappearance with Elizabeth. She said she had no idea he would do anything like this.

If convicted of aggravated kidnapping, Cummins could face eight to 12 years in prison, Cooper said. The prosecutor said if Cummins provides information that leads to the girl's return or if he voluntarily releases her, that would weigh in his favor legally.

"His actions can determine how serious the outcome is. I urge Mr. Cummins to pick up the phone," Cooper said.

Anyone who may have interacted with either Thomas or Cummins before their disappearance should call TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.

The TBI expects soon to release new photos of Cummins taken just a few days before he and the girl disappeared, DeVine said.

It will also be adding Cummins to the agency's Top 10 Most Wanted list.

PREVIOUS STORY:  The 15-year-old victim of an ongoing AMBER Alert, and the 50-year-old man she may be with, could "frankly, be anywhere" at this point, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Thursday. 

Elizabeth Thomas, 15, is believed to be with an ex-teacher from her school, Tad Cummins. Authorities say he is armed with two handguns. The pair may be driving a Silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tags 976ZPT.

“It’s absolutely important that everyone in this nation know about these individuals because frankly, they could be anywhere right now,” TBI spokesperson Josh Devine said during an update Thursday afternoon. 

The two were last seen on Monday morning in Columbia, Tennessee; however, investigators have info placing Thomas in the area of Decatur, Alabama on Monday afternoon. 

Since issuing an AMBER Alert Tuesday evening in Tennessee and Alabama, TBI said it has received just 125 tips. 

“If 125 leads sounds like a low number, it is. It is the lowest number of leads for an AMBER Alert that we’ve seen go this long. It is alarmingly low,” Devine said.  He explained that it indicates the pair may be out of the view of the general public or outside the area across the southeast that have been notified.

Former Knoxville Police Chief Phil Keith, who also used to run the national AMBER Alert system, weighed in on the case Thursday. 

Keith said the more their photos are kept in the public eye, the more likely they will be found. 

"When AMBER Alerts are issued, the child is recovered in a very high percentage, 98 or 99 percent," Keith said. 

He urged people not to give up hope. 

"The least little bit of a hint can save that child’s life," he added. 

He said the two could be anywhere so it's important for officers to stay vigilant and for people to stay aware of their surroundings. 

"Anyone that has children and has a love for children they are acutely tuned into those kinds or messages so you have more eyes looking," Keith said. 


On Thursday, TBI issued a second nationwide BOLO so that every agency knows about the alert. 

“Law enforcement can not do this alone. We need the public to keep an eye out, pay attention," Devine said.  

TBI also revealed Thursday that it has found a troubling pattern of behavior suggesting Cummins may have been abusing his role as a teacher to lure and potentially sexually exploit Thomas. 

Cummins was a teacher at Culleoka Unit School, where Elizabeth went to school. 

District Attorney General Brent Cooper has said that Cummins is wanted in connection to an alleged sexual interaction between Cummins and a minor. The school district suspended him when those allegations surfaced and he was fired on Tuesday. 

Investigators have put together a timeline placing Cummins and Thomas in the same area just before their disappearance on Monday: 

• 7:30 - 7:45 a.m. Monday: A friend of Elizabeth Thomas drops her off at the Shoney's in Columbia, Tenn. 

• 8:32 a.m.: Surveillance video appears to show Tad Cummins at a nearby Shell station

• 12:41 p.m.: Maury County Sheriff's Department enters Thomas as 'missing' in NCIC, nation's law enforcement internal communications database 

• 3:06 p.m.: Information places Thomas in the area of Decatur, Ala. 

Anyone who may have interacted with either Thomas or Cummins before their disappearance should call TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND. 

If you spot the suspect vehicle and can verify the license plate to be TN 976-ZPT, authorities say to call 911. 

© 2017 WBIR.COM


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