Bring Elizabeth home: TBI continues search for missing 15-year-old, AMBER Alert suspect

COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The search continues for missing 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas and 50-year-old AMBER Alert suspect Tad Cummins from Maury County.

The 15-year-old high school freshman disappeared on March 13 and is believed to be with Tad Cummins, a former teacher at the school she attended.

Authorities said in a March 28 press conference that all agencies are committed to seeing the search through and sent a message to the missing teen. "We will not stop until we find you and bring you home."

Officials described the incident as a well-thought out kidnapping. "This is not a romance. There's nothing pretty about this. This is a crime."

Ongoing investigative efforts revealed that Cummins researched his silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tag 976-ZPT to determine which features of the vehicle could be tracked by law enforcement. On March 5, Cummins looked into teen marriage online. CBS News reported that Cummins appears to have been planning to leave by watching survivalist shows, and that the cell phones of Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas have been turned off.

Law enforcement begged the public to share information about the missing teen with friends in Mexico or south of the border.


A lawyer for the family of a missing Tennessee high school student said Cummins had been investigated by the school system after another student reported seeing the teacher kiss Thomas.

The Associated Press reported that according to attorney Jason Whatley and school records, teacher Tad Cummins was allowed to continue working at Tennessee's Culleoka Unit School for two weeks. Attorney Jason Whatley said school officials never told the girl's father that the teacher was reportedly seen kissing his 15-year-old daughter. Whatley said the father didn't find out until a week later, from law enforcement authorities.

Elizabeth Thomas was described as a white female with blonde hair, hazel eyes, 5" tall, weighing 120 pounds. The AMBER alert was issued on behalf of the Maury County Sheriff Department in Middle Tennessee. Thomas was last seen wearing a flannel shirt and black legging at the Shoney's in Columbia, Tennessee.

Thomas is believed to be in the custody of 50-year-old Tad Cummins, a white male, who stands 6'0", weighs approximately 200 pounds, and has brown hair and eyes.

He is believed to be armed with two handguns and driving a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tag 976-ZPT. A warrant was issued for Cummins for sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping. On Friday, the TBI added him to the state's 'Top 10 Most Wanted' list. There is a $1,000 reward for information leading to his capture.

CBS News reports that on the day Thomas went missing, she exchanged cryptic messages on Instagram with Cummins. She posted a quote about "Beauty and the Beast." Cummins wrote: "Let's do this."

TBI released surveillance video of Tad Cummins in the hair dye aisle of a grocery store on March 7. The TBI determined the purchase of hair dye by Cummins was not part of his intended plan for Elizabeth Thomas.

Since issuing the AMBER Alert at approximately 6 p.m. CST on March 14, the TBI has received more than 650 tips from over 24 states. The TBI has concluded that Cummins and Thomas are likely out of view of the general public or outside of the southeast area. Agents said, "Having last been seen on Monday morning, the individuals could, frankly, be anywhere."

The TBI developed the following timeline of events:

Monday, March 13:

7:30-7:45 a.m. CST: A friend of Elizabeth Thomas dropped Thomas off at the Shoney's in Columbia, Tennessee.

8:32 a.m. CST: Surveillance video appears to show Tad Cummins at the nearby Shell station, fueling his Nissan Rogue.

12:41 p.m. CST: The Maury County Sheriff's Department entered the child as 'missing' in NCIC, the nation's law enforcement internal communications database.

3:06 p.m. CST: Information places Thomas in the area of Decatur, Alabama.

Tuesday, March 14:

3:49 p.m. CST: The Maury County Sheriff's Department officially requested an alert.

4:18 p.m. CST: TBI issued an Endangered Child Alert.

4:49 p.m. CST: The Maury County Sheriff's Department secures the warrant for Cummins, charging him with one count of sexual contact with a minor.

5:53 p.m. CST: Due to the warrant being placed against Cummins, TBI upgraded its alert to an AMBER Alert.

Early Wednesday, 22nd District Attorney General Brent Cooper said Cummins' charge is related to an alleged sexual interaction between Cummins and Thomas at the school where he taught and where she was a student.

The school district suspended Cummins when allegations surfaced. His employment was terminated Tuesday.

50-year-old Cummins worked at the high school where Thomas is a freshman. In a letter to the Maury County School District obtained by CBS News, the Thomas family attorney claimed another student saw Cummins kissing Thomas in January. The attorney said the school waited more than a week to take action about the accusations.

The TBI determined that Cummins secured a title loan for a personal vehicle several days before his disappearance, netting $4,500 in cash. Investigators believe Cummins potentially planned the abduction prior to Monday.

Media outlets reported that Cummins' wife begged him to come home. "This is not who you are," Jill Cummins said. "We can help you get through this."

Investigators said they want to hear from anyone who had any interaction with either Thomas or Cummins prior to their disappearance. TBI representative said, "It takes one person who might be driving down a road and sees that Tennessee license plate, and they call 911, that breaks this thing wide open."

If you have information on Thomas or Cummins, call the MCSD at 931-375-8654 or the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.