COLUMBIA, Tenn. — After being missing for more than a month, a 15-year-old Tennessee girl was found near a cabin in a remote part of northern California and the 50-year-old teacher accused of kidnapping her was arrested, authorities said.
Health sciences teacher Tad Cummins surrendered to sheriff’s deputies Thursday without incident in Cecilville, California, hours after they had set up surveillance on his vehicle in the area, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said. The girl was apparently healthy and unharmed, but authorities said their main concern was her emotional and mental state.
“We couldn’t be happier to tell you she will soon be on her way back home to Tennessee,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said.
Cummins faces state charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor as well as a federal charge of taking a minor across state lines to have sex. If convicted of the federal charge, he faces at least 10 years in prison, acting U.S. Attorney Jack Smith said.
Authorities declined to answer a question on whether the girl went willingly, saying it didn’t matter.
“At the end of the day she’s 15 years old. She’s 15 years old; she’s a young girl that’s with a grown man that’s 50 years old. He needs to be held accountable for kidnapping this girl,” Gwyn said.
The Associated Press is not naming the girl or her family members because she is an alleged victim of a sex crime.
The end of the nationwide manhunt came after authorities received a tip late Wednesday night that the pair may have taken up residence in the woods in Siskiyou County, perhaps for more than a week, bureau spokesman Josh DeVine said. The remote, mountainous area has limited cellphone service and the terrain is difficult to traverse. Snow was still on the ground in some places.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said it worked tirelessly for the past five weeks, looking into more than 1,500 leads from all 50 states.
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 a community about 60 miles south of Nashville near the Alabama state line.
“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.
Court papers filed recently in the girl’s disappearance said she was afraid of the teacher and thought she would face repercussions at school if she resisted him.
Whatley has said the teacher was allowed to continue working at the school for two weeks after he was reported kissing the girl.
The school’s investigative files provided to The Associated Press by the attorney show that both Cummins and the girl denied kissing. The teacher, however, acknowledged that the girl was “a really good friend and she does leave her other classes to come see him when she needs someone to calm her down,” according to a school report dated Jan. 30.
The report recommended that the girl be taken out of Cummins’ class and that he be reprimanded to uphold his professional responsibility. The report also recommended that the administration monitor Cummins’ classroom to make sure students weren’t there when they weren’t supposed to be.
The teacher would later be reprimanded Feb. 3 by school principal Penny Love after the girl was seen in Cummins’ classroom for a little more than half an hour that day.
The school system didn’t suspend Cummins until Feb. 6.
After being suspended, court records say Cummins took out a loan for $4,500, took 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, authorities say he picked the student up in Columbia, Tennessee, setting off a six-week police manhunt.
Cummins was fired about a month after being suspended — a day after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an Amber Alert about the teen.
The teacher’s wife of 31 years has filed for divorce. Court records show that Jill Cummins sued her then-missing husband on the grounds of irreconcilable differences and inappropriate marital conduct. The wife, who works for the Maury County school system, said she had not seen her husband since March 13. The couple has two children together.