Look inside the cabin where Tad Cummins and missing teen stayed

CECILVILLE, California (CNN) -- They traveled about as far away from Tennessee as they could get in the US, finally settling -- at least for a night -- in a remote cabin on a tree-covered mountainside in Northern California.

The man told people the young woman with him was his wife. He said their house had burned down in Colorado, and he was down to his last dollar.

But Tad Cummins failed to mention that he was the subject of a nationwide manhunt and that his companion, 15, had been his student, listed in an Amber Alert as abducted and in danger.

WATCH: Take a look inside the California cabin where they pair stayed

 

 

During the five weeks the teacher and student were missing, residents tied green ribbons on trees back in Culleoka, Tennessee. There, relatives of the teenager fielded dozens of media inquiries, while authorities plastered the airwaves and the Internet with surveillance images of the pair at a store in Oklahoma, asking for the public's help in finding them.

The arrest of Cummins, 50, and the recovery of the 15-year-old girl came Thursday after the cabin's caretaker alerted authorities.

"I'm glad this is over," the teacher told sheriff's deputies when they took him into custody.

5 weeks of mystery

The exact path that Cummins and his student took from Tennessee to California isn't clear, but the teacher's next trip is: At some point, he'll be extradited to the Volunteer State to face charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, among other counts.

Many questions remain about what happened: Where were they from the time they left Culleoka in mid-March until they were found Thursday in the tiny town of Cecilville? What were their plans? And did the student leave willingly with her teacher, who had already been warned to stay away from her?

Accusations of inappropriate contact

Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas disappeared March 13, about two months after another student reported seeing the two kissing in his classroom. Culleoka Unit School learned about the incident the following day, January 24, but the girl's father didn't find out until a week later when the Maury County Sheriff's Department notified him, his attorney said. Meanwhile, his daughter said she was still in Cummins' class.

"If it is true that contact between this student and Mr. Cummins has continued in light of these allegations, I can tell you that my client will use whatever legal means are at his disposal, including filing suit, to assist Maury County Schools in protecting (his daughter) from Mr. Cummins," Anthony Thomas' attorney, Jason Whatley, wrote in a letter to the school February 6.

The school district said in a February 8 internal memo, provided to CNN by Whatley, that the student had been removed from Cummins' forensics class and that assertions she remained in his class were false.

Cummins was suspended from his job February 6, and he was fired more than a month later -- the day after he disappeared with his student.

Authorities believe the teacher groomed Elizabeth for nearly a year. He told her stories about what he said was his past as a CIA and FBI agent flush with cash, her father said.

"He convinced her that he had been a secret agent and ... that he had all kinds of money," her father told HLN. "It was clear that he had really put a lot of notions into her head."

'She did expect to be home by dinner'

For her part, Elizabeth said that, like many students, she looked to Cummins as a counselor. She had been to church with him, she said. According to the report about the incident in his classroom, he never made her feel uncomfortable, and he never touched her, except for the occasional fist bump. He also grabbed her hands one time to calm her down, she said.

On the morning of March 13, a friend dropped her off at a restaurant in Columbia, near Culleoka. Around the same time, surveillance footage showed Cummins pumping gas nearby, according to authorities.

Elizabeth told a sibling she was going somewhere that day but to call police if she hadn't returned by 6 p.m., her brother, James Thomas, told HLN last month.

"She didn't think she was going to be gone that long, I guess, because she did expect to be home by dinner that night," he said.

Plans for a trip

It appears Cummins, at least, had been planning to leave with his student for some time. According to a criminal complaint filed Thursday in federal court in Tennessee, the teacher filled two prescriptions for Cialis shortly before March 13. The drug is used to treat erectile dysfunction and enhance sexual performance. He also applied for and received a $4,500 loan -- which he told his wife they needed because he no longer had a job.

On the day he left, he told his wife, Jill, that he needed to borrow her Nissan Rogue to go on a job interview. When she got home that day, she found a note saying he was leaving for a while to "clear his head" and she shouldn't call police. She also discovered that the loan money, two handguns, clothes and toiletry items were missing.

Cummins did some research online about the SUV to see if law enforcement could track certain features on the vehicle, police said. He also looked at websites concerning teen marriage, authorities told HLN last month.

"That is an issue that we have some major concerns of because it might potentially speak to his intentions for her," Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Josh DeVine said March 22.

Investigators also discovered that Cummins booked rooms -- in his own name -- at Super 8 motels in Oklahoma City and in Guymon, Oklahoma, in March.

Authorities have surveillance video from a Walmart in Oklahoma City from March 15 showing the pair, and images of Cummins purchasing women's razors, chocolates and a "commonly used lubricant for sexual intercourse," according to the criminal complaint.

Jill Cummins made a tearful entreaty to her husband to turn himself in four days after police issued an Amber Alert for Elizabeth. She has since filed for divorce.

How authorities found them

After 39 days on the run, Cummins and his student ended up in Northern California, where they apparently tried to get into a commune near Cecilville, according to the man who said he tipped police off to their presence. Griffin Barry told CNN affiliate KRCR-TV that Cummins said he was 44 and that his "wife" was 22.

"The first time he was like, 'We're from Colorado. We had a house fire and lost everything.' He said he used to be a raft outfitter, or something like that," Barry told CNN.

He told Barry he was down to his last $10.

"And I was like, 'Oh, man, I've had my own struggles. So (I'll) try to help you out,'" Barry said.

He said he offered Cummins work -- moving rocks -- and a place to stay: a small cabin for which Barry was the caretaker. But he said he eventually became suspicious, noting that Cummins was driving a Nissan Rogue without any license plates and that his female companion spoke little, he told KRCR.

Researching the pair, Barry saw Cummins' picture online in an urgent Amber Alert. He called police Wednesday night, KRCR reported, and authorities asked the caretaker to help them capture the teacher.

On Thursday morning, Barry asked Cummins to come outside and help him build a rock wall on the property. When Cummins left the cabin, investigators were there to arrest him, the cabin's owner, Monk O'Hare, told CNN. Elizabeth was right behind him, and she was taken into federal custody.

The girl alternated between being "stoic" and "emotional" -- understandable, given the circumstances. Siskiyou County sheriff's Sgt. Mike Gilley said.

"It was a very traumatic experience for her. Her mood was very alternating," Gilley said. "The two obviously have a relationship. ... Her response to us and to law enforcement escalated up and down."

Facing justice

Cummins was charged with one federal count of transportation of a minor across state lines for the purpose of criminal sexual intercourse, said Jack Smith, acting US attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. The charge carries a minimum of 10 years.

He also faces state charges of sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said last month.

Tennessee law allows children older than 12 to decide whether to leave their families unless their removal or confinement "is accomplished by force, threat or fraud."

To prove kidnapping, prosecutors will need to show the 15-year-old was unlawfully removed or had her freedom restricted.

That determination remains to be seen. But what's important now, Elizabeth's relatives said, is that she comes home and begins the process of healing.

"There aren't words in the English language to describe the level of relief and elation experienced by the Thomas family," said Whatley, the family's attorney. "Now begins another hard chapter, but for now, we celebrate."


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12.              COPYRIGHT POLICY

(A)             We respect the intellectual property rights of others and expect users to do the same.  In appropriate circumstances and at our sole discretion, we may terminate and/or disable the Membership of users suspected to be infringing the copyrights (or other intellectual property rights) of others.  Additionally, in appropriate circumstances and in our sole discretion, we may remove or disable access to material on the Services that may be infringing or the subject of infringing activity.

(B)              In accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, Title 17 of the United States Code, Section 512 (“DMCA”), we will respond promptly to claims of copyright infringement that are reported to the agent that we have designated to receive notifications of claims infringement (its “Designated Agent”).  Our Designated Agent is:

David M. Giles, Deputy General Counsel; The E.W. Scripps Company; 312 Walnut Street, Suite 2800, Cincinnati, OH 45202; (513) 977-3000; dave.giles@scripps.com.

(C)              If you are a copyright owner (or authorized to act on behalf of the copyright owner) and believe that your work’s copyright has been infringed, please report your notice of infringement to us by providing our Designated Agent with a written notification of claimed infringement that includes substantially the following:

(i)                 A physical or electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

(ii)               Identification of the copyrighted work claimed to have been infringed, or, if multiple copyrighted works at a single online site are covered by a single notification, a representative list of such works at that site.

(iii)             Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity and that is to be removed or access to which is to be disabled, and information reasonably sufficient to permit us to locate the material.

(iv)             Information reasonably sufficient to permit us to contact you, such as an address, telephone number, and, if available, an electronic mail address at which you may be contacted.

(v)               A statement that you have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.

(vi)             A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that you are authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

We will investigate notices of copyright infringement and take appropriate actions under the DMCA. Inquiries that do not follow this procedure may not receive a response.

13.              CHOICE OF LAW; JURISDICTION AND VENUE

These Terms of Use shall be construed in accordance with the laws of the State of Tennessee without regard to its conflict of laws rules.  Any legal proceedings against Company that may arise out of, relate to, or be in any way connected with our Services or these Terms of Use shall be brought exclusively in the state and federal courts located in Nashville, Tennessee and you waive any jurisdictional, venue, or inconvenient forum objections to such courts.

14.              DISPUTE RESOLUTION

(A)           Each party agrees to first contact the other with any disputes and provide a written description of the problem, all relevant documents/information and the proposed resolution. You agree to contact us with disputes by sending notice to:  Insert name and address.   We will contact you based on the contact information you have provided us.

(B)           If after 30 days the parties are unable to resolve any dispute raised under the previous provision, the dispute may be submitted to arbitration consistent with this Section.  The parties understand that they would have had a right or opportunity to litigate disputes through a court and to have a judge or jury decide their case, but they choose to have any disputes resolved through arbitration.

(C)       Each party agrees that any claim or dispute between such parties, and any claim by either party against any agent, employee, successor, or assign of the other, including, to the full extent permitted by applicable law, third parties who are not signatories to this agreement, whether related to this agreement or otherwise, including past, present, and future claims and disputes, and including any dispute as to the validity or applicability of this arbitration clause, shall be resolved by binding arbitration administered by the JAMS under its rules and procedures in effect when the claim is filed. The rules and procedures and other information, including information on fees, may be obtained from JAMS’ website (www.jamsadr.com) or by calling JAMS at 949-224-1810.

(D)           Each party is entering into this arbitration agreement in connection with a transaction involving interstate commerce.  Accordingly, this arbitration agreement and any resulting proceedings shall be governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16. Any award by the arbitrator(s) may be entered as a judgment in any court having jurisdiction.

(E)           Exception to Arbitrate. Either party may bring qualifying claims in small claims court. Further, pursuant to the “NO CLASS ACTIONS” section below, each party agrees that any arbitration will be solely between you and Company, not as part of a classwide claim (i.e., not brought on behalf of or together with another individual’s claim). If for any reason any court or arbitrator holds that this NO CLASS ACTION restriction is unconscionable or unenforceable, then our agreement to arbitrate does not apply and the classwide dispute must be brought in court.

15.              NO CLASS ACTIONS

TO THE EXTENT ALLOWED BY LAW, COMPANY AND YOU EACH WAIVE ANY RIGHT TO PURSUE DISPUTES ON A CLASSWIDE BASIS; THAT IS, TO EITHER JOIN A CLAIM WITH THE CLAIM OF ANY OTHER PERSON OR ENTITY, OR ASSERT A CLAIM IN A REPRESENTATIVE CAPACITY ON BEHALF OF ANYONE ELSE IN ANY LAWSUIT, ARBITRATION OR OTHER PROCEEDING.

16.               NO TRIAL BY JURY

TO THE EXTENT ALLOWED BY LAW, EACH PARTY WAIVES ANY RIGHT TO TRIAL BY JURY IN ANY LAWSUIT, ARBITRATION OR OTHER PROCEEDING.

17.              AMENDMENT; ADDITIONAL TERMS

(A)             We reserve the right in our sole discretion and at any time and for any reason, to modify or discontinue any aspect or feature of the Services or to modify these Terms of Use.  In addition, we reserve the right to provide you with operating rules or additional terms that may govern your use of the Services generally, unique parts of the Services, or both (“Additional Terms”).  Any Additional Terms that we may provide to you will be incorporated by reference into these Terms of Use.  To the extent any Additional Terms conflict with these Terms of Use, the Additional Terms will control.

(B)              Modifications to these Terms of Use or Additional Terms will be effective immediately upon notice, either by posting on the Services or by notification by email or conventional mail.  It is your responsibility to review the Terms of Use and the Services from time to time for any changes or Additional Terms.  Your access and use of any the Services following any modification of these Terms of Use or the provision of Additional Terms will signify your assent to and acceptance of the same.  If you object to any subsequent revision to the Terms of Use or to any Additional Terms, immediately discontinue use of the Services and, if applicable, terminate your Membership.

18.              MISCELLANEOUS

(A)             No waiver by either party of any breach or default hereunder shall be deemed to be a waiver of any preceding or subsequent breach or default. The section headings used herein are for convenience only and shall not be given any legal import.

(B)              Except where specifically stated otherwise (e.g., the “Exception to Arbitrate” provision above), if any part of these Terms of Use is unlawful or unenforceable for any reason, we both agree that only that part of the Terms of Use shall be stricken and that the remaining terms in the Terms of Use shall not be affected.  So, for example, if a provision in these terms is found to be unenforceable, we agree an arbitrator (or, if permitted, a court) shall only strike that provision and that the remaining terms of these Terms of Use shall remain in force.

(C)              These Terms of Use (including the Privacy Policy and any Additional Terms incorporated by reference) constitute the entire agreement of the parties with respect to the subject matter hereof, and supersede all previous written or oral agreements between us with respect to such subject matter.

(D)             You may not assign these Terms of Use or assign any rights or delegate any obligations hereunder, in whole or in part, without our prior written consent.  Any such purported assignment or delegation by you without the appropriate prior written consent will be null and void and of no force and effect.  We may assign these Terms of Use or any rights hereunder without your consent and without notice.