(CULLEOKA, Tenn.) — A former teacher accused of kidnapping his 15-year-old student researched “teen marriage” online eight days before he allegedly abducted the girl, authorities said Tuesday.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said the suspect, Tad Cummins, 50, also did online research about his car “to determine if certain features could be tracked by law enforcement.”
Cummins is accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Thomas on March 13 and was fired from his job the next day. An Amber Alert has been issued for Thomas, and Cummins is wanted on allegations of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.
“We need you home,” Thomas’s sister, Sarah, told ABC News today. “Whatever he’s telling you is a lie. .. just call or text us whenever you can.”
Amid the desperate search for the victim, the TBI released a photo today showing Thomas and Cummins together in their Culleoka school in January. The photo was taken days before Cummins had “alleged inappropriate contact with her,” the TBI said.
One of Thomas’s schoolmates had reported seeing them kiss in his classroom on Jan. 23, according to a school district investigative report, but Thomas and Cummins denied the claim.
The TBI said that Cummins “may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom [the teen] … in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her.”
Thomas’s sister told ABC News that the victim was bullied in school by students and teachers after the reported kiss and told her “I just have to get away, we have to get away.”
“I can’t handle this anymore . .. all the teachers, all the kids constantly saying mean things, I can’t handle it,’” the sister recounted.
Sarah Thomas said her sister woke her up urgently the day she disappeared and made her promise to call the police if she was not home by 6 p.m. that night. Sarah Thomas said her sister sounded “serious,” not happy. “She’s not a serious person.”
When the 15-year-old didn’t come home, Sarah Thomas was scared.
“I felt like it was my fault,” she told ABC News. “Maybe if I would have done something” that morning, and didn’t fall back asleep, “I could’ve stopped her,” she said.
But Sarah Thomas said she doesn’t think Elizabeth Thomas knew she was leaving that day; she said her sister wouldn’t leave without at least hugging her.
“If she gets sick, he can’t do anything … she doesn’t have a way of getting to the doctor,” Sarah Thomas said.
She also said her younger sister is “not a camper.” She hates the woods and is scared of snakes and spiders, Sarah Thomas said.
An attorney for the school district has not responded to ABC News’ request for comment about the bullying claims.
As authorities search for the pair, authorities say Cummins is believed to be armed and that the teen is “in imminent danger.”
Authorities said neither Thomas nor Cummins has been in touch with family members.
TBI spokesman Josh DeVine told ABC News about 600 tips have come in as of today, which he called “substantially low.” And there are still no credible sightings of the duo, which DeVine says is very rare.
Join us in holding out hope. It only takes one solid lead. pic.twitter.com/VShoOaUksX
— TBI (@TBInvestigation) March 21, 2017
Cummins’ wife, Jill, pleaded with her husband Friday to “come home.” “I had no idea my husband was involved with anything that has led to all this. My heart breaks for the family of Beth Thomas,” she said. “Tad, this is not you. This is not who you are. We can help you get through this … Your family wants their poppy back. Please do the right thing and turn yourself into the police and bring Beth home.”
In an interview with ABC News Monday, the teen’s father, Anthony Thomas, pleaded with his daughter to “please let us know you are all right and please come home to us.”
It’s been a week, but we’re not giving up hope. Stay vigilant, stay alert, and let us know if you spot these individuals or this vehicle. pic.twitter.com/jDACuW1iUg
— TBI (@TBInvestigation) March 20, 2017
Thomas family attorney Jason Whatley told ABC News that Cummins was “taking advantage” of his student and “manipulating her into leaving with him.”
“We are very concerned about the control that he has over her,” Whatley said. “We believe that is 100 percent the reason why she is missing at this point. He is the problem, she is not. She’s a child, she’s a victim.”
Cummins is described as 6 feet tall and weighs about 200 pounds. He may be driving a 2015 silver Nissan Rogue with a Tennessee license plate number 976-ZPT.
Thomas is described as 5-foot-5 and weighs 120 pounds. She was last seen wearing leggings and a flannel shirt.
Authorities are asking that anyone with information call 1-800-TBI-FIND and that anyone who sees a car with a Tennessee license plate 976-ZPT call 911. A $1,000 reward is available for information leading to Cummins’ arrest.
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