Caretaker’s suspicions led cops to missing teacher, student

Tad Cummins
This undated file photo released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations shows Tad Cummins in Tennessee. (Tennessee Bureau of Investigations via AP)

COLUMBIA, Tenn. (AP) — After the caretaker of a remote northern California property became suspicious of two people he initially thought were in distress, his tip led police to a teacher accused of kidnapping his 15-year-old student and taking her on a 2,500-mile cross-country journey.

Griffin Barry said the pair told him their names were John and Joanna and they needed money for food, gas and a place to stay, ABC News Good Morning America reported Friday. But Barry, 29, said he became suspicious when the older man tried to keep the teen away.

“The girl wasn’t really looking at me or anything and he was always dominating the conversation. That kind of clues people in,” Barry said.

After seeing a photo of Tad Cummins in an Amber Alert, Barry said he made the connection and called authorities.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office sent a tactical unit to the cabin Thursday morning. Cummins was arrested after he came out the cabin with the girl walking behind him, the sheriff’s office said.

“The victim appeared to be in good health and Mr. Cummins was cooperative with law enforcement authorities at the scene, the sheriff’s office press release said. The sheriff’s office said it found two loaded guns in the cabin with other belongings of the teacher and student.

The Associated Press is not naming the girl or her family members because she is an alleged victim of a sex crime. Cummins was taken into custody and the girl went with FBI agents, the sheriff’s office said. She will undergo a forensic examination and receive any care that she may need, authorities said.

The girl could be back in Tennessee as early as Friday. Cummins faces federal and state charges.

Before leaving with the girl, Cummins had been suspended from teaching and police were zeroing in on him, questioning his relationship with the girl.

Cummins was fired about a month after being suspended — a day after the TBI issued an Amber Alert about the teen.

After taking out a loan for $4,500, the records say, the teacher took the money and two handguns and wrote a note to his wife saying he needed to go to Virginia Beach or the D.C. area to clear his head.

But instead of going to the beach, police say he picked up the student in Columbia, Tennessee, in his wife’s silver Nissan Rogue on the morning of March 13, triggering a six-week police manhunt.

“It is believed based on the investigation to date, as set forth herein, that Cummins, age 50, and victim, age 15, are involved in a sexual relationship and traveled in interstate commerce to continue their relationship and to engage in unlawful sexual activity,” the criminal complaint against Cummins says.

Cummins, the federal complaint says, is charged with taking a minor across states lines to have sex.

Hotel companies alerted authorities that the two had checked in to motels in Oklahoma City and Guymon, Oklahoma, but they were gone by the time police got the tips, the complaint says.

Surveillance video from Wal-Mart stores in Oklahoma City and Guymon captured video of the student and teacher.

How they got to Cecilville, California, and why they went there remains a mystery to investigators.

“The family is absolutely elated beyond words that this part of the ordeal is coming to an end,” Jason Whatley, an attorney for the girl’s family said Thursday evening. “We’re anxiously awaiting word on her condition.”

The girl’s father has told news media he believes his daughter was brainwashed.

Cummins faces state charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor as well as the federal charges. If convicted of the federal charge, he faces at least 10 years in prison, acting U.S. Attorney Jack Smith said.

The pair’s disappearance March 13 came after Cummins was investigated by the school system when another student reported seeing the then-married teacher kiss the girl at the Culleoka Unit School. Culleoka is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Nashville near the Alabama state line.

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Associated Press writer Kristin Bender in San Francisco contributed to this report.