COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WATE) – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said they remain extremely concerned for the well-being of Elizabeth Thomas, 15, in an ongoing Amber Alert in Tennessee. The Amber Alert was extended late Tuesday to Alabama.
The Maury County, Tennessee teen has been missing since Monday. TBI said Thomas may be with an armed 50-year-old named Tad Cummins, in a Nissan with Tennessee tags 976-ZPT.
District Attorney General Brent Cooper says Cummins is charged with an alleged sexual interaction between himself and Thomas while he was a teacher at a Maury County school where Thomas was a student. The TBI said their investigative efforts revealed a troubling pattern of behavior by Cummins, suggesting the 50-year-old may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom Thomas for some time in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her.
A Maury County Schools spokesperson says he was suspended last month from Culleoka Unit School. Maury County Public Scool released the following statement:
“Maury County Public Schools suspended the Culleoka Unit School teacher involved in the law enforcement investigation once we were notified of the allegations. Since then, the teacher has been dismissed as a result of the 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.”
Thomas was last seen at 8:00 a.m. CST Monday at the Shoney’s in Columbia, Tennessee, after being dropped off there by a friend. Her parents reported her as missing later that same day. TBI investigators can place Thomas in Decatur, Alabama at approximately 3:06 p.m. CST on Monday, but they said neither individual has a known connection there and may have just been passing through the area.
“Since issuing the Amber Alert at approximately 6:00 CST Tuesday, the TBI has received approximately 120 leads,” said Josh DeVine, a spokesperson with TBI. “None has produced any credible sightings about the whereabouts of either individual. Because of the shockingly low number of tips, the TBI has concluded the individuals are likely out of the view of the general public or outside the original net cast across the southeast to notify the public about their disappearance. Having last been seen on Monday morning, the individuals could, frankly, be anywhere.”
TBI is also working to track Cummins’ actions in the weeks prior to the Amber Alert. For instance, they learned he secured a title loan for a personal vehicle several days before his disappearance, netting $4,500 in cash. TBI is looking for anyone who had an interaction with either individual in the days leading up to their disappearances.
A timeline of events was released by TBI:
Monday, March 13
- APPROXIMATELY 7:30-7:45 AM CST: A friend of Elizabeth Thomas dropped Thomas off at the Shoney’s in Columbia, Tennessee.
- 8:32 AM CST: Surveillance video appears to show Tad Cummins at the nearby Shell station, fueling his Nissan Rogue.
- 12:41 PM CST: The Maury County Sheriff’s Department entered the child as ‘missing’ in NCIC, the nation’s law enforcement internal communications database.
- 3:06 PM CST: Information places Thomas in the area of Decatur, Alabama.
Tuesday, March 14
- 3:49 PM CST: The Maury County Sheriff’s Department officially requested an alert.
- 4:18 PM CST: TBI issued an Endangered Child Alert.
- 4:49 PM 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 PM CST: Due to the warrant being placed against Cummins, TBI upgraded its alert to an Amber Alert.
Thomas is described as a white female with blonde hair and hazel eyes. She is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds. She was last seen wearing a flannel shirt and black leggings.
Cummins is described as a white male around 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds. He has brown hair and eyes. He is believed to be armed with two handguns and is driving a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee license plate 976-ZPT. They may be in the Decatur, Alabama, area.
Anyone with information should call the Maury County Sheriff’s Department at (931) 375-8654 or 1-800-TBI-FIND.