Tennessee Amber Alert suspect arrested, victim found safe after car found in California

CECILVILLE, Calif. (WKRN) – The former Tennessee teacher accused of kidnapping a 15-year-old student was arrested Thursday at a northern California commune.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced Tad Cummins, 50, was taken into custody and Elizabeth Thomas was safely rescued in Cecilville, California, in Siskiyou County.

The TBI says they received a tip at 11 p.m. Central Wednesday night form a California resident who said he believed he saw Thomas and Cummins and had information they had taken up residence in cabin in Cecilville over the last week and a half.

TBI spokesman Josh DeVine said they notified authorities in Siskiyou County, who had “challenges had to overcome” in locating the pair. The area was a “very remote, isolated area with no or limited cell phone service.”

Deputies ultimately located Cummins’ Nissan Rogue, which has the lience plate removed but was verified through its VIN number, and kept the SUV under surveillance for hours.

When day broke, Cummins was spotted and taken into custody without further incident. Thomas was subsequently rescued.

“Our Intelligence Analysts and Agents have worked tirelessly since issuing this AMBER Alert to process more than 1,500 leads from all 50 states,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “What happened in California this morning, however, proves it only takes one person to lead to a successful end. We are extremely thankful the hard work of all partners in this search has paid off. We’re also grateful for the public’s support and vigilance throughout this search effort.”

The pair was found at the Black Bear Ranch commune, according to KDRV-TV. 

The two vanished from Columbia, Tennessee, on March 13. An AMBER Alert was issued across the state of Tennessee the following day, and Cummins was added to the TBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list on March 17.

The 50-year-old already faced one count of kidnapping in the case, which has since been upgraded to aggravated kidnapping. He now also faces a federal charge of transportation of a minor across state lines for the purpose of having criminal sexual intercourse.

Acting US Attorney Jack Smith said the charge carries a required minimum sentence of 10 years behind bars, but Cummins’ sentence could be “possibly quite longer.”

Cummins also faces one count of sexual contact with a minor from an incident that allegedly happened earlier this year. A student reportedly witnessed him kiss Thomas while at school in late January.

MORE: Timeline of search for Elizabeth Thomas, Tad Cummins

As of 3 p.m. Thursday, Cummins remained in the custody of the Siskiyou County jail where he’s being held without bond, awaiting extradition to Tennessee. A mug shot was not immediately released.

Maury County Schools, where Cummins taught until he was fired the day after he disappeared with Thomas, released a statement on the conclusion of the case.

School officials said Thomas’ safe return is “wonderful news for our community, and now, we can begin healing as a community, school district, and as families touched by the AMBER Alert.”

The statement continued, “Thanks go to all who have kept the message of finding Elizabeth Thomas and working on her safe return as top-of-mind throughout the nation. The efforts of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Maury County Sheriff’s Office, nationwide law enforcement community and media outlets promoting awareness of this case have brought us to this safe conclusion, and Maury County Public Schools wants to thank these many professionals for the good news today.”

Never miss another Facebook post from WISH-TV