SISKIYOU, Calif. -- After five weeks on the run, a Tennessee teacher who kidnapped and fled with his 15-year-old student has been arrested in California, authorities said Thursday.
The student, Elizabeth Thomas, was found safe, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation tweeted Thursday. But the girl has not been able to speak with her family yet because she is in "too remote" of a location to do so, Thomas family attorney Jason Whatley said.
"There aren't words in the English language to describe the level of relief and elation experienced by the Thomas family," Whatley said. "Now begins another hard chapter, but for now, we celebrate."
According to an affidavit obtained by WHNT charges Cummins with Transporting a minor across state lines with the intent of engaging in sexual activity.
Tad Cummins, 50, fled with Thomas from their small town of Culleoka, Tennessee, on March 13. They disappeared a few weeks after a student reported seeing Cummins and Elizabeth kissing in a classroom.
The affidavit includes a denial from Thomas that she and Cummins ever kissed at school, references to Cummins getting Cialis prescription filled before he left town and at least two instances where Cummins secured hotel rooms with one bed in Oklahoma.
According to WHNT the complaint filed in a Tennessee federal court by Jonathan Hardison, a detective with the Columbia Police Department and a member of the FBI task force searching for Thomas.
The affidavit starts with a School Resource Officer that contacted a sheriff's investigator late January reporting that students had seen Cummins and Thomas kiss.
The Maury County Sheriff's Office investigators went to Celleoka Unit School, where Cummins was a teacher and Thomas, a student.
“Detectives and the SRO subsequently spoke with the student,” the affidavit says. “The student related that he/she saw VICTIM and Cummins kissing. The student described the kiss as a romantic peck rather than a father-daughter type kiss."
“The student stated that he/she and another student went to Cummins' classroom after school and confronted him about his relationship with VICTIM," the affidavit says. "The student related that Cummins rambled on and on about how much he loved his wife, but indicated that VICTIM sometimes went to church with him and his wife and that VICTIM had a troubled past.”
The affidavit then says they spoke with Thomas' father.
“With the assistance of VICTIM's father, detectives were able to view the call history on VICTIM's phone,” the affidavit says. “That history showed brief contact between VICTIM and Cummins' known phone number on January 31, 2017.”
The affidavit later goes on to explain that Thomas explained that she had a verbal exchange with another teacher about using the bathroom and was upset over the issue and went to discuss it with Cummins.
She does state in the affidavit that Cummins possibly held both of her hands around the wrist area and may have been close to her face, but said confirmed that they never kissed.
Cummins was suspended from his job on Feb. 6, the affidavit says.
The day that Cummins and Thomas went missing, the affidavit says Cummins lied to his wife and borrowed her 2015 Nisan Rogue car. The investigation revealed that Cummins had no interview.
The affidavit says Cummins' wife returned home that evening to a note left by her husband.
"In the note, Cummins explained that he was traveling 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."
Cummins' wife did not call the police at that time, the affidavit says.
Cummins wife contacted investigators the next day, the affidavit says.
“On the morning of March 14, 2017, at approximately 7:30 a.m., Cummins' wife contacted MCSD and informed an MCSD Captain that Cummins did not come home the previous night and had left a note for her,” it says. “She also advised that Cummins had taken out a loan the previous week of approximately $4,500. Cummins' wife advised that Cummins had purportedly done this to meet their financial needs during his suspension from work without pay. She reported that the money was missing, along with two handguns, clothes, and toiletry items."
“Subsequent investigation revealed that Cummins had falsified information on the application to obtain the loan.”
Authorities released surveillance video from March 15 that showed the pair at a Walmart in Oklahoma City. But for weeks, the trail went cold.
Two weeks later on March 29 the affidavit says investigators received a hotline tip from a Super 8 Motels employee.
“The database showed that Cummins had stayed at a Super 8 location in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma located at 3852 S. Prospect on March 15, 2017 and March 16, 2017,” according to the affidavit. “The employee stated that the information in the database showed that Cummins gave a Columbia, Tennessee address. It also showed his phone number as 931-* * *-1919, a known phone number belonging to Cummins, and postal zip code of 38401.
“A photocopy of Cummins' Tennessee driver's license taken by the clerk was provided to investigators. Cummins rented a room with a single queen-sized bed. Upon further investigation, investigators learned from a witness at the motel that Cummins had asked for directions to a local Walmart.”
A break came when a vehicle belonging to Cummins was found in Siskiyou County, California, the county's sheriff's office said.
It was identified using its vehicle identification number.
Siskiyou County is more than 2,000 miles from Culleoka, Tennessee.
The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office set up a perimeter around the cabin he was staying in with Elizabeth and arrested him without incident as he went outside in the morning. Deputies recovered two loaded handguns from the cabin.
Cummins faces charges of sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said last month.
Cummins' estranged wife, Jill Cummins, was "very emotional" when she learned both were found safely, her attorney Michael Cox said.
"She is excited that they were found and nobody was hurt," Cox said. "She has not spoken to Tad."
Jill Cummins had filed for divorce, saying she felt betrayed by her husband. She had no idea why her husband went to northern California, her attorney said.
"This is not somewhere they had frequently visited," Cox said. "I'm not aware that they had ever been there."