FBI: Here's what Tenn. teacher accused of abducting student did on the run

Tad Cummins will remain in custody as the case against him goes to a grand jury, federal Judge Barbara Holmes ruled Friday, saying he was both a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Authorities say Cummins, a former Columbia, Tenn., teacher, manipulated his former student, 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas, and spent 38 days on the run with her. An Amber Alert was issued, drawing national attention to the case before a citizen's tip led law enforcement agents to Cummins and Elizabeth in California.

At the two-hour hearing on Friday, Cummins, dressed in striped prison garb, remained silent until after the judge's ruling, but turned to mouth "I love you" to his two daughters, father and sister.

In brief comments outside the downtown Nashville courthouse, Cummins' attorney Dumaka Shabazz said his family does not condone Cummins' actions but still supports and loves him.

The hearing provided the first detailed day-by-day account of the cross-country trip that began March 13, when Cummins picked Thomas up from a Shoney’s restaurant in Columbia, Tenn.

FBI special agent Utley Noble testified about the sequence of events, culled from their investigation, store videos, motel receipts and Cummins' interviews with law enforcement.

The plan to flee

The week before, Cummins had met with Thomas at the restaurant parking lot to plan their departure.

Cummins had also visited websites about teenage marriages, searched for mattresses that would fit inside his Nissan Rogue and watched a YouTube video on how to dismantle a car GPS system.

On the day he left, he cleaned out a lockbox in his home of $4,500 and two guns and left his wife a note saying he was heading to Virginia Beach or maybe Washington, D.C., to “clear my mind of this crap.” Cummins was being investigated at the time for inappropriate behavior with Thomas.

After picking Thomas up at the Shoney’s parking lot on March 13, Cummins drove south on Interstate 65 and headed to Decaturville, Ala., where he and Thomas each threw their cell phones into the Tennessee River.

Cummins dismantled his in-car GPS system and replaced his license plate with an Alabama tag taken from an abandoned car. He then drove the pair to Birmingham before spending their first night in Mississippi.

New identities out West

From Mississippi, Cummins headed northwest to Oklahoma City for the night, where the pair were caught on surveillance video at a Walmart, although authorities would not see the video until two weeks later. They spent two nights in Oklahoma at Super 8 motels before reaching Colorado, where they spent another two nights.

In Cortez, Colo., Cummins bought a tablet from Walmart to be able to view news coverage about Thomas’ disappearance.

It’s in Colorado that Cummins decided on pseudonyms and new identities for the pair. They become a married couple, 40-year-old John and 24-year-old Joanne Castro. Cummins told investigators he chose a Spanish-sounding name because he planned to go to Mexico.

Heading west, they spend three or four nights in Utah, a night in Nevada and then landed in San Diego where Cummins purchased a $1,500 two-seater kayak to boat into Mexico.

But those plans went awry when they tested the kayak in Coronado Bay and found it   too treacherous.

It was there that the pair had their first contact with an unidentified local law enforcement officer whom they spoke to about boating in the area, and who kept watch for them when they returned.

“According to Cummins, he was worried about their safety,” Noble said.

Cummins decided against heading to Mexico by land, saying the political environment made it “too hot.” Instead they drove to “Slab City” in southern California where Cummins slept with his gun because he was concerned about their safety.

Tipster identifies Cummins and Thomas

They then drove north, stopping in Los Angeles to sell the kayak at a bar. By the time they reached Cecilville in northern California, Cummins was running out of money.

They acquired a “friend” named Griffin who gave them some money and gasoline.

Griffin Barry would later be instrumental — and rewarded — in Cummins' capture, but when he first met Cummins and Thomas, he did not know who they were.

After two weeks spent at a nearby commune, where they stayed in a cabin, Cummins and Thomas were asked to leave. He and Thomas found Barry again. By then, however, Barry had recognized Cummins and “began interacting with law enforcement.” Barry was asked to obtain the car’s vehicle identification number so police could confirm their identities.

Cummins was captured the next day and Thomas was recovered safely.

The first thing Cummins said when law enforcement interviewed him was “I want to go home,” Noble said.

Cummins was initially charged April 20 with a federal crime of knowingly transporting a minor in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in sexual activity.

Cummins has not yet been indicted and could face additional charges. 

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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