(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) — Days before a former Tennessee teacher allegedly kidnapped his 15-year-old student, he reportedly showed up at the teen’s place of work, according to the girl’s sister.
There have been no credible sightings of 50-year-old Tad Cummins and 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas in the two weeks they’ve been missing, officials say. Her sister, Sarah Thomas, told ABC News that Cummins showed up to teen’s workplace multiple times, including the Saturday before they disappeared.
Elizabeth would ask co-workers to tell Cummins that she wasn’t there, Thomas recalled to ABC News, “and she would go and hide until he left.”
According to Thomas, Elizabeth hid in the bathroom multiple times. Sometimes she couldn’t hide because she was at the cash register, Thomas said.
“She thought it was really weird,” Thomas noted. “She felt uncomfortable.”
As the manhunt for the former teacher and student intensifies, “it feels like she just vanished,” Thomas explained.
Cummins is wanted on allegations of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor. An Amber Alert has been issued for Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s father, Anthony Thomas, said, “We just live for that day when we’re gonna get a phone call that says, ‘I’m alright, I need somebody to come and get me.'”
The Thomas’ family attorney, Jason Whatley, told ABC News last week Whatley told ABC News last week that Cummins “is a 50 year old authority figure predator. That’s what he is. He has preyed on her.”
“She is under his spell, and she is being controlled by him, and that is what is so scary,” Whatley said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said that Cummins, who was fired one day after the alleged kidnapping, “may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom [the teen] … in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her.”
Investigators have uncovered email draft messages between Thomas and Cummins, which authorities say showed a romantic relationship between the two. According to authorities, after one of them would write a message, he or she would save the message as a draft, and the other person would log on, read the message and delete it.
Authorities also said Cummins researched covert ways to communicate via Instagram and specific encrypted texting apps.
Cummins, a married father and grandfather, researched teen marriage online, specifically the age of consent, according to law enforcement officials.
One of Elizabeth’s schoolmates had reported seeing her and Cummins kiss in his classroom on Jan. 23, according to a school district investigative report, but both denied the claim. In a school report from January, neither “admitted to behaving inappropriately towards the other.”
Thomas told ABC News her sister was bullied in school by students and teachers after the reported kiss.
“I can’t handle this anymore … all the teachers, all the kids constantly saying mean things, I can’t handle it,’” Thomas recalled Elizabeth saying to her.
TBI spokesman Josh DeVine told ABC News last week that Cummins and Elizabeth could be “off the grid” in a rural area at this point.
Cummins is believed to have watched a TV show about living off the grid before the pair disappeared, law enforcement sources told ABC News. Three days before the alleged kidnapping, Cummins did online research about his car “to determine if certain features could be tracked by law enforcement,” the TBI said. Cummins also researched if his SUV was suitable for camping, according to law enforcement officials.
Cummins is described as 6 feet tall and weighs about 200 pounds. He may be driving a 2015 silver Nissan Rogue with a Tennessee license plate number 976-ZPT.
Elizabeth Thomas is described as 5-foot-5 and weighs 120 pounds. She was last seen wearing leggings and a flannel shirt.
Authorities are asking that anyone with information call 1-800-TBI-FIND and that anyone who sees a car with a Tennessee license plate 976-ZPT call 911. A $1,000 reward is available for information leading to Cummins’ arrest.
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