BIZARRE

Lube, Cialis & $4,500—Inside a Teacher’s Alleged Kidnapping of a 15-Year-Old

Police have revealed a scandalous web of plans Tennessee high school teacher Tad Cummins allegedly had for his 15-year-old student.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Before he allegedly kidnapped a 15-year-old student, former Tennessee teacher Tad Cummins was under police investigation for his relationship with the girl, a new criminal complaint reveals.

Cummins, 50, was arrested Thursday in Siskiyou County, California, nearly 2,500 miles from the Tennessee town where he allegedly kidnapped 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas on March 13. Cummins had been Thomas’s high school teacher until he was suspended for “inappropriate relations” with her several weeks before the pair’s disappearance. And the new federal warrant released after Cummins’s arrest suggests that the former teacher planned the kidnapping for weeks.

Police became aware of Cummins’s suspicious behavior on Jan. 30, when the school’s resource officer told them that, a week earlier, a student had seen Cummins kissing Thomas. It was not a “father-daughter type kiss,” the student told the school resource officer. The unnamed student also said that they and a classmate confronted Cummins over the inappropriate behavior they witnessed. But Cummins allegedly gave the students a meandering explanation, at one point appearing to blame Thomas’s history.

“The student related that Cummins rambled on and on about how much he loved his wife, but indicated that [Thomas] sometimes went to church with him and his wife and that [Thomas] had a troubled past,” the warrant reads.

Two days after meeting with the safety officer, police went to the school to interview Cummins, who denied kissing Thomas, and told police that he acted as her “father figure” at school. School officials ordered Cummins to stay away from Thomas. But two days after the police interview, a school safety officer informed police that Cummins had been alone in a classroom with Thomas against school orders. Cummins was suspended from his teaching position on Feb. 6.

During Cummins’s suspension, the school launched an investigation into his communications, the arrest warrant reveals. Officials seized two school-issued electronic devices: a computer and an iPad. “Cummins reportedly became upset over the iPad device, advising that he had personal information on the device, including information about purchases he had made, and was reluctant to give up the device,” the warrant reads.

But while Cummins was suspended, he began plotting his disappearance with Thomas, the warrant suggests. The week before the kidnapping, Cummins took out a $4,500 loan, his wife told investigators. A police investigation revealed that Cummins had falsified information on the loan application. Cummins also stocked up on Cialis, an erectile dysfunction pill, three days before fleeing town, police discovered.

The morning of his March 13 disappearance, Cummins allegedly borrowed his wife’s Nissan Rogue and left home with a bogus alibi, telling his wife he was going to a medical center for a job interview. Before becoming a teacher, Cummins had worked as a respiratory therapist. But a police investigation revealed that Cummins had not scheduled an interview at the medical center. Instead, he drove to the restaurant where Thomas worked. Surveillance footage from a nearby gas station showed him filling his tank before turning toward the restaurant, where Thomas was last seen.

Cummins had previously visited Thomas at the restaurant, and her coworkers had reason to be suspicious of him. Thomas’s family’s lawyer previously told WKRN that when Cummins had visited the restaurant in the past, Thomas had hidden in the bathroom and begged a coworker to tell Cummins she wasn’t working that day. The morning of her disappearance, Thomas allegedly appeared worried about going to work. "She woke up her older sister and said 'Hey I'm leaving, but if I'm not back by 6:00 come looking for me,'" her sister-in-law told WHNT.

The evening of March 13, neither Cummins nor Thomas returned home. Thomas’s father called the police, telling them his daughter had gone missing, and that he feared she might be with Cummins. Cummins’s wife, meanwhile, returned home to find a note from her husband. “In the note, Cummins explained that he was travelling to Virginia Beach or the D.C. area to clear his head. He said he would be back and urged his wife not to call the police. Cummins denied doing anything wrong and asked his wife to forgive him,” the arrest warrant reads.

But when Cummins had not returned by 7:30 the following morning, his wife called police against his orders. She told investigators that Cummins had disappeared with the $4,500 loan he had taken out, along with two handguns, clothes, and toiletry items. With his cash, the guns, and the full tank of gas, Cummins fled west with Thomas.

In the two days after the alleged kidnapping, Cummins drove his wife’s Nissan Rogue at least 650 miles to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. There, on March 15, a Walmart surveillance camera captured Cummins and Thomas walking through the front of the store. Their hair was dyed darker, in an apparent effort to conceal their identities. Surveillance footage from a Tennessee Walmart had showed Cummins purchasing women’s hair dye before the kidnapping. But the Oklahoma City Walmart footage would not be discovered for another two weeks, when an employee at an Oklahoma City motel checked customers logs and discovered that Cummins had used his own name and driver’s license to book a one-bed motel room the nights of March 15 and 16. Cummins had asked a motel employee for directions to Walmart.

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The following night, Cummins checked into a different motel in western Oklahoma, over 250 miles away from Oklahoma City. There, he also allegedly shopped at a Walmart, this time purchasing lubricant frequently used for sex. Then his trail went cold. Neither he nor his victim were sighted again until April 19, when the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation received a call from northern California. The tipster, who called from a rural area inside a national forest, told investigators that Cummins and Thomas had moved into a cabin approximately a week and a half earlier.

Local police spotted the Nissan Rogue that Cummins had borrowed from his wife six weeks earlier. The car’s plates had been removed. As dawn broke on the wooded area, local police took Cummins into custody, investigators announced during a Thursday press conference.

Cummins was charged with a federal count of transporting a minor across state lines with the intent of engaging in sexual activity, in addition to his earlier charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.

Thomas, meanwhile, was recovered safely, and reunited with her family.

“All we know is that she’s apparently healthy and unharmed. Knowing that, our main concern is how she is emotionally and mentally,” Maury County district attorney Brett Cooper said during the Thursday afternoon press conference. “Whatever help we can offer, we will make sure that it is provided for her.”