UPDATE: AMBER ALERT suspect added to TBI's 'Top 10 Most Wanted' - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

AMBER ALERT

UPDATE: AMBER ALERT suspect added to TBI's 'Top 10 Most Wanted'

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UPDATE: Monday marked one week since middle Tennessee teenager Mary Catherine Elizabeth Thomas went missing, with her 50-year former teacher Tad Cummins who is believed to be the kidnapping suspect.

Her nickname is Beth, and she's often referred to as Elizabeth. 

As of March 18, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation had nearly 250 tips from 24 states, but none have led to a credible sighting of the two.

The TBI believes that Cummins is keeping Thomas out of view, possible sleeping in his vehicle or relocated them to a rural area far away from Tennessee.

Investigators put out an urgent call Sunday for help finding Thomas, who disappeared along with an armed former teacher a week ago, according to authorities who said they were deeply concerned "about his intentions for her."

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Cummins had possibly planned the kidnapping on March 13 of Elizabeth, 15, who attends Culleoka Unit School in Maury County, near the Alabama border.

The TBI has added Cummins, who has been charged with aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, to its list of most wanted fugitives. It warned Sunday that he is believed to be armed with two handguns and should be considered dangerous.

Authorities said there had been no credible sightings of Elizabeth or of Cummins since Monday, when she was seen in Decatur, Alabama — the same day that grim posts appeared on her and Cummins' social media accounts, NBC affiliate WSMV of Nashville, Tennessee, reported.

Cummins' wife, Jill, pleaded with him to return Elizabeth safely.

"Tad, this is not you," Jill Cummins told reporters Saturday. "This is not who you are. We can help you get through this."

"Please do the right thing," she added. "Bring Elizabeth back home."

The bureau said it had received only 250 tips from 24 states, leading investigators to cast a wider net in their search.

"Having now been on the run for more than five days, Cummins may have taken her, frankly, anywhere," the TBI said Sunday.

It added: "Nothing investigators have learned about Cummins or his intentions for the young girl ... calms the imminent concern for Elizabeth's well-being. In fact, it only heightens it."

Elizabeth's father, Anthony Thomas, made an emotional plea to his daughter in an interview with NBC affiliate WSMV on Friday.

"We all love you very much and we miss you — the house is not the same without you here," he said. "We just don't want to go on without you."

Thomas said Cummins had told Elizabeth he previously worked for the FBI and CIA.

"I tried to convince her that you don't go from jobs like that down to teaching at a rural school," he said.

"Every minute you just hope that you're going to find her alive," he added.

Elizabeth is described as 5 feet, 5 inches tall, weighing 120 pounds, with hazel eyes. She was last seen wearing a flannel shirt and black leggings, investigators said.

Cummins is 6-0 and about 200 pounds, with brown hair and eyes. He is believed to be driving a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tags.

The TBI would urge the public to remain vigilant and report any information that may prove beneficial in the ongoing search to 1-800-TBI-FIND. If you spot the vehicle and can verify the license plate to be TN 976-ZPT, call 911 immediately.


PREVIOUS STORY: The TBI added 50-year-old Tad Cummins to its Top 10 Most Wanted list Friday evening.

Cummins is a suspect in an AMBER Alert issued for 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas, who's been missing since Monday.

The TBI believes Cummins used his role as a teacher to sexually exploit Thomas and they're worried about her safety. The TBI is now expanding its search nation-wide.

Cummins is possibly driving a silver Nissan Rogue with the Tennessee tag 976-ZPT.

The TBI asks the public to remain vigilant and report any information that may prove beneficial in the ongoing search to 1-800-TBI-FIND.

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.


PREVIOUS UPDATE: A Tennessee AMBER Alert has police across the country searching for a young girl and a high school teacher. 

TBI says agents are "extremely concerned" about the well-being of 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas, who has been missing since Monday from her home in Columbia.

She's believed 50-year-old Tad, who is now facing a charge of sexual contact with a minor.

At this point agents say she could be anywhere and their concern has sparked a nationwide search.

In Chattanooga gas stations are receiving urgent alerts through the TN lottery machines with the suspect's description and the description of the 15-year-old girl. So in case any of the employees see anything, they'll know exactly what to do.

"When you're in a convenient store you have a lot of traffic, travelers that are stopping, filling up with gas, snacks," said Emma Newman, Manager of the Raceway on Signal Mountain Road.

The last time anyone spotted 50-year-old Tad Cummins it was at a gas station on Monday, 150 miles away in Columbia, filling up his Nissan Rogue.

As each day passes with no credible leads to find 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas, gas station employees across the state are helping to spread the message.

The TBI believes Cummins used his role as a teacher to sexually exploit Thomas and they're worried about her safety. The TBI is now expanding its search nation-wide.

"We have issued a second nation-wide BOLO so that every law enforcement agency in the country knows about this girl, knows about this man and knows about the existing AMBER Alert," said TBI spokesperson Josh Devine.

Police agencies in Chattanooga are keeping an eye out on the roads, looking for a silver Nissan Rogue with the Tennessee tag 976-ZPT.

"Law enforcement cannot do this alone. We need the public to keep their eyes out, pay attention, if you spot these individuals or the vehicle with the license plate, call 911," Devine said. 

The TBI asks the public to remain vigilant and report any information that may prove beneficial in the ongoing search to 1-800-TBI-FIND. If you spot the vehicle and can verify the license plate to be TN 976-ZPT, call 911.


PREVIOUS UPDATE: The multi-state search for 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas continues, with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation saying they remain "extremely concerned" for her well-being.

Surveillance video (seen above) may show the suspect filling his Nissan Rogue with gas in Columbia, TN. 

The TBI says their investigation has revealed a troubling pattern of behavior by Tad Cummins, suggesting that the 50-year-old may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom Thomas for some time in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her.

Since issuing the AMBER Alert Tuesday, the TBI has received approximately 120 leads.

The TBI has been able to develop the following timeline of the events placing Cummins and Thomas in the same vicinity just prior to their disappearance:

Monday, March 13

  • APPROXIMATELY 7:30-7:45 AM CST: A friend of Elizabeth Thomas dropped Thomas off at the Shoney’s in Columbia, Tennessee.
  • 8:32 AM CST: Surveillance video appears to show Tad Cummins at the nearby Shell station, fueling his Nissan Rogue.
  • 12:41 PM CST: The Maury County Sheriff’s Department entered the child as ‘missing’ in NCIC, the nation’s law enforcement internal communications database.
  • 3:06 PM CST: Information places Thomas in the area of Decatur, Alabama.

Tuesday, March 14

  • 3:49 PM CST: The Maury County Sheriff’s Department officially requested an alert.
  • 4:18 PM CST: TBI issued an Endangered Child Alert.
  • 4:49 PM CST: The Maury County Sheriff’s Department secures the warrant for Cummins, charging him with one count of Sexual Contact with a Minor.
  • 5:53 PM CST: Due to the warrant being placed against Cummins, TBI upgraded its alert to an AMBER Alert.

On Wednesday, 22nd District Attorney General Brent Cooper confirmed the details of the incident for which Cummins now faces a charge is connected to an alleged interaction between Cummins and Thomas at the school where he taught and where she was a student. The school district suspended Cummins when the allegations surfaced and terminated his employment Tuesday.

The TBI asks the public to remain vigilant and report any information that may prove beneficial in the ongoing search to 1-800-TBI-FIND. If you spot the vehicle and can verify the license plate to be TN 976-ZPT, call 911.


PREVIOUS STORY: The TBI has received a relatively few number of tips as they work to locate and recover 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas.

Thomas became the subject of a statewide AMBER Alert issued by the TBI, along with an Alabama AMBER Alert, Tuesday evening.

She is described as a white teenager, with blonde hair, hazel eyes, stands 5’5” and weighs 120 pounds. 

Thomas was last seen wearing a flannel shirt and black leggings and is believed to be in the custody of 50-year-old Tad Cummins.

The TBI describes Cummins as a white male, who stands 6’0”, weighs approximately 200 pounds, and has brown hair and eyes. 

Police believe him to be armed with two handguns and driving a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tag 976-ZPT. 

A warrant has been issued for Cummins for sexual contact with a minor.

Since issuing the AMBER Alert at approximately Tuesday evening, the TBI has received approximately 80 leads but none have resulted in any credible sightings for either Thomas or Cummins.

22nd District Attorney General Brent Cooper confirmed the details of the incident for which Cummins now faces a charge is connected to an alleged sexual interaction between Cummins and Thomas at the school where he taught and where she was a student. The school district suspended Cummins when the allegations surfaced and terminated his employment Tuesday.

The TBI is working to understand the action of Cummins in the weeks leading up to the AMBER Alert. For example, the TBI has been able to determine Cummins secured a title loan for a personal vehicle several days before his disappearance, netting $4,500 in cash. To that end, the TBI would like to hear from anyone who may have had an interaction with either individual prior to their disappearance.

If you have information on Thomas or Cummins, call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND. If you spot the vehicle and can verify the license plate to be TN 976-ZPT, call 911.

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