TBI explains when to trust a possible Amber Alert sighting

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The Amber Alert is still active for a missing teenager from Middle Tennessee and her former teacher. While the TBI wants everyone to keep a sharp eye for them, the bureau says there’s a right way to handle information about sightings.

So far there’s only been one confirmed sighting of Elizabeth Thomas and Tad Cummins at a Walmart in Oklahoma City. The two were seen on surveillance video March 15, two days after Thomas disappeared.

At the same time there have been false alarms far and wide from Nashville to Collierville, to other states including Nebraska and Texas.

Previous story: TBI: Amber Alert victim not spotted in Nebraska

“It’s been quite a while now and honestly they could still be anywhere,” said Leslie Earhart with TBI.

Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas (Courtesy: TBI)

As of Wednesday, more than 1,300 tips have come in to TBI and 300 of those are still being actively investigated. However, problems have surfaced, like rumors or possible sightings circulating on social media.

“What we would ask if someone in the public snaps a photo that they believe may be Elizabeth Thomas or Tad Cummins, go ahead and send it to law enforcement. Don’t share it on social media,” added Earhart.

TBI is the only agency that can rule out or confirm a sighting and that’s why they want to be careful, as well as accurate, when releasing information. Ultimately once it’s cleared by TBI, it can be trusted.

“It also plays with the emotions of the family members. You can imagine what they go through every time you hear a lot of news coverage about a possible sighting,” said Earhart.

Another problem is dispatch radio, or scanner traffic, because possible sightings are being shared by news outlets and people from across the country. Investigators say reporting scanner traffic only adds to confusion and interferes with the case.

“We’ve received tips from almost every state across the county,” said Earhart.

To date the only time we’ve seen Thomas and Cummins is once in Oklahoma on March 15th. “We know that she was in Alabama at one point, that was not a sighting. We just have information that places her there,” added Earhart.

Investigators say if someone sees something, call 911, even if it may seem small. “Every minute that goes by, is a minute too long,” said Earhart.

The only other state with an Amber Alert for the two is in Alabama, but each state has their own criteria when issuing an alert. A nationwide BOLO has been issued to law enforcement.

TBI says while they appreciate help from other agencies, TBI cannot determine whether a tip is legitimate until their agents are able to review the photos or video in question.

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