Tennessee Teacher Accused of Kidnapping Student
COLUMBIA, Tenn. – The Tennessee teacher accused of kidnapping a 15-year-old former student may have planned the abduction in advance, according to police.
The student, 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas (pictured left/center) was last seen around 7:30 or 8 a.m. Monday at a Shoney’s restaurant in Columbia, Tennessee, where a friend, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, had dropped her off.
Her former teacher, Tad Cummins, 50, (pictured right) is reportedly shown on surveillance footage from a gas station near the restaurant at about 8:30 a.m. filling up his silver Nissan Rogue. Police believe Cummins is traveling in this vehicle with the teenager.
The man is wanted on charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, reported ABC News.
The state investigative bureau believes Elizabeth is “in imminent danger.” They also believe Cummins is in possession of two handguns.
“What scares us about Mr. Cummins is he’s sort (of) given up his life at this point,” Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland told ABC News. “The girl is just 15.”
Sheriff Rowland indicated the teacher may have decided to take Elizabeth and leave in the wake of his being spotted earlier this year allegedly kissing the teen student.
Jason Whatley, an attorney for Elizabeth’s father, Anthony Thomas, told media this week that another student saw Cummins kissing Elizabeth on Jan. 24.
The Maury Country Sheriff’s Department as well as the school system investigated the incident. Officials from the Maury County Public Schools said in a statement that the health sciences teacher at Culleoka Unit School was initially suspended then dismissed as a consequent of actions sustained by their investigation.
“The district does not tolerate any manner of behavior that is alleged in this incident and will take swift action to remove parties from school campuses who are involved with investigations of this type,” the statement said.
Sheriff Rowland said his department’s investigation of the incident is still pending.
The sheriff believes Cummins may have planned the disappearance with Elizabeth after he was suspended from his teaching job.
“That’s how it started,” Rowland said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation also said in a news release that Cummins “potentially planned this abduction prior to Monday.”
He “may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom this vulnerable young girl for some time in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her,” the bureau said.
Sabrina Gallup, a manager at the Shoney’s, where Elizabeth was dropped off Monday morning told ABC News by phone that Thomas had no connection to the restaurant beyond that of a potential customer.
She said the girl’s disappearance has left people in the community of Columbia, Tennessee, unsettled.
“Everyone’s keeping an eye out,” Gallup said. “The entire town is looking out for her right now.”
(Feature image screenshot ABC newscast)