Former Knoxville police chief gives insight into kidnapping cases

Former Knoxville police chief, Phil Keith, said finding a missing child is sometimes like picking a needle out of a haystack.

Former Knoxville police chief Phil Keith

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Former Knoxville police chief Phil Keith said sometimes finding a missing child is like picking a needle out of a haystack, especially after it’s been weeks since the last sighting.

Keith is very familiar with cases like the AMBER Alert out of Maury County, Tennessee. He said the primary focus is the welfare and recovery of the child.

“This perp in this case is an adult teacher. He’s planned this well so he is going to do everything to mislead,” said Keith.

The former police chief says suspects may mislead officers by only using cash, taking a GPS out of a car or not using a cell phone. He also says they may instill fear in the victim to prevent the person from being found.

Tactics may involve convincing the victim that they can’t go back or they will hurt their family or hurt them or that the suspect is smarter than enforcement, according to Keith. He says that can be intimidating to a young person.

New photos and video of Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas out of Oklahoma were not surprising to Keith. He said changing appearance is another common tactic.

Video: TBI releases new surveillance video of Tennessee Amber Alert victim, suspect

“You can change their characteristics and put them in front of people and you can never recognize them,” Keith said.

Keith believed speaking to the media is the most important thing an investigator can do to find someone who has been missing for weeks. He said it can keep the case in front of the public’s eye and therefore, increase the likelihood of a successful recovery. If there are still no sightings of the child, Keith said investigators look at every lead.

“They’ve [probably] looked through his personal contact records to know if he knows maybe another school teacher who lives in Oklahoma,” he said.

Keith said Tennessee Bureau of INvestigation sometimes needs to be very careful about what information they release about the case. He said it is important for the person accused to not know how close investigators may be.

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