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Tenn. teacher accused of kidnapping student is arrested in Calif.; girl found safe

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A former Tennessee teacher accused of kidnapping his 15-year-old student has been arrested in Northern California, and the girl was found safe, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Thursday.

Authorities have been searching for weeks for Tad Cummins, 50, who was wanted on allegations of sexual conduct with a minor. He has been accused of kidnapping 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas. Amber alerts were issued in Tennessee and Alabama, and Cummins was listed on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s 10 Most Wanted list.

Thomas went missing on March 13.

Cummins’ white Nissan Rogue was found Wednesday night in Siskiyou County, which borders Oregon, authorities said. The vehicle’s license plate had been removed, and it was determined to be Cummins’ car by its vehicle identification number, a dispatcher for the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.

Cummins formerly taught at the Culleoka Unit School in Culleoka, Tenn., where Elizabeth was a student, the Tennessean reported. He was fired from the school after authorities began investigating him for an alleged sexual interaction with the girl at the school, where she was a freshman, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a statement last month that “investigative efforts have revealed a troubling pattern of behavior by Tad Cummins, suggesting the 50-year-old may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom this vulnerable young girl for some time in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her.”

Elizabeth was last seen the morning of March 13 at a Shoney’s restaurant in Columbia, Tenn., after being dropped off by a friend. Her parents reported her missing later that day. Investigators placed her as being 80 miles south, in Decatur Ala., later that day.

Surveillance footage showed Cummins and the girl at a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma City on March 15, The Tennessean reported. Cummins used cash to purchase food items, and they both appeared to have dyed hair.

Authorities said Cummins appeared to have planned the abduction in advance.

Three days before Elizabeth disappeared, Cummins looked for information online about his Nissan “in an effort to determine if certain features could be tracked by law enforcement,” according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. A few days before that, he did an online search about teenage marriage, authorities said.

In a news conference last month, Cummins’ wife, Jill, said: “Tad, this is not you. This is not who you are. … Your family wants their poppy back. Please do the right thing and turn yourself in to the police and bring Beth home.”

Few details were immediately available about the arrest, but the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was to hold a news conference Thursday afternoon to discuss the case.

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