CECILVILLE, Calif. – Authorities arrested Tad Cummins, the 50-year-old Tennessee teacher who allegedly abducted 15-year-old student Elizabeth Thomas, at a backwoods commune in Siskiyou County, California.
They also confirmed that Thomas was found safe in a remote cabin near Cecilville after more than a month-long manhunt, The Tennessean reports.
“Our intelligence analysts and agents have worked tirelessly since issuing this AMBER Alert to process more than 1,500 leads from all 50 states,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation 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. We are extremely thankful the hard work of all partners in this search has paid off. We’re also grateful for the public’s support and vigilance throughout this search effort.”
A tip on Wednesday night led police to Black Bear Ranch, a commune founded in 1968 for folks to “get back to the land, get out of the city, and start a new life together in the mountains,” where they arrested Cummins and safely rescued Thomas on Thursday morning, KDRV reports.
The find ends a 38-day manhunt that began when Cummins allegedly abducted the girl from Culleoka, Tennessee on March 13, shortly after he was busted by another student kissing the 15-year-old in a classroom. Maury County Public Schools fired Cummins as a result of the inappropriate relationship, and both his wife and the girl’s family have made public pleas for the former teacher to return.
Investigators located the two on surveillance video at an Oklahoma City Walmart on March 15, but they had not been spotted since.
According to The Tennessean:
Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Kelly Giordano said earlier Thursday that Cummins’ vehicle was found in their California jurisdiction Wednesday night. Siskiyou County, the fifth-largest by area in California, is a remote area more than half covered by national forests and state lands on the California-Oregon state line. About 45,000 people live there, according to the U.S. Census.
“The news of Elizabeth 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. 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,” Maury County school officials wrote in a prepared statement Thursday.
“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. We continue our efforts here with the policy-review task force whose members are focused on developing consistent procedures to assist each school when faced with allegations and investigations.”
Tennessee state Rep. Sheila Butt also spoke out after Cummins’ arrest.
“When something like this happens, a community gets together and feels like this is one of our children,” she told The Tennesean. “This just feels like our prayers have been answered, and the lost sheep is home.”
“I have known Tad Cummins over the years, and I think I could honestly tell you that I’m not surprised that she’s safe,” Butt said. “I will let the courts deal with the ramifications of what happened here.”
Cummins is now in a Siskiyou County jail awaiting extradition to Tennessee to face charges of sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping.