COLUMBIA, Tenn. (AP) — Teacher Tad Cummins took guns, money and his wife’s car before kidnapping a 15-year-old female student and taking her on a 2,500-mile cross-country journey that ended Thursday, court records show.
He had just been suspended from teaching and police were zeroing in on him, questioning his relationship with the girl.
After taking out a loan for $4,500, the records say, the teacher took the money and two handguns and wrote a note to his wife saying he needed to go to Virginia Beach or the D.C. area to clear his head.
But instead of going to the beach, police say he picked up the student in Columbia, Tennessee, in his wife’s white Nissan Rogue on the morning of March 13, setting in motion a six-week police manhunt.
“It is believed based on the investigation to date, as set forth herein, that Cummins, age 50, and victim, age 15, are involved in a sexual relationship and traveled in interstate commerce to continue their relationship and to engage in unlawful sexual activity,” the criminal complaint against Cummins says.
Cummins, the federal complaint says, is charged with taking a minor across states lines to have sex.
The Associated Press is not naming the girl or her family members because she is an alleged victim of a sex crime.
Hotel companies alerted authorities that the two had checked in to motels in Oklahoma City and Guymon, Oklahoma, but they were gone by the time police got the tips, the complaint says.
Surveillance video from Wal-Mart stores in Oklahoma City and Guymon captured video of the student and teacher.
How they got to Cecilville, California, and why they went there remains a mystery to investigators.
The teacher, police say, surrendered Thursday to sheriff’s deputies outside a cabin in a remote northern area of the state after a tip was called into the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that Cummins and the student had taken up residence there for about a week and a half.
The girl was apparently healthy and unharmed, and authorities said their main concern was her emotional and mental state.
“The family is absolutely elated beyond words that this part of the ordeal is coming to an end,” Jason Whatley, an attorney for the girl’s family said Thursday evening. “We’re anxiously awaiting word on her condition.”
A TBI plane is supposed to fly the girl back home.
Cummins faces state charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor as well as the federal charges. If convicted of the federal charge, he faces at least 10 years in prison, acting U.S. Attorney Jack Smith said.
The pair’s disappearance March 13 came after Cummins was investigated by the school system when another student reported seeing the then-married teacher kiss the girl at the Culleoka Unit School. Culleoka is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Nashville near the Alabama state line.
The school’s investigative files provided to the AP by the attorney show that both Cummins and the girl denied kissing. The teacher, however, acknowledged that the girl was “a really good friend and she does leave her other classes to come see him when she needs someone to calm her down,” according to a school report dated Jan. 30.
The report recommended that the girl be taken out of Cummins’ class and that he be reprimanded to uphold his professional responsibility. The report also recommended that the administration monitor Cummins’ classroom to make sure students weren’t there when they weren’t supposed to be.
Cummins was fired about a month after being suspended — a day after the TBI issued an Amber Alert about the teen.
The teacher’s wife of 31 years has filed for divorce. Court records show that Jill Cummins sued her then-missing husband on the grounds of irreconcilable differences and inappropriate marital conduct. The wife, who works for the Maury County school system, said she had not seen her husband since March 13. The couple has two children together.
Associated Press writer Kristin Bender in San Francisco contributed to this report.