Weeks before a student and teacher went missing, another teen reported seeing them kiss

Elizabeth Thomas, 15, and Tad Cummins, 50, went missing last Monday.

ByABC News
March 20, 2017, 4:47 PM

— -- Nearly two months before a high school student and her former teacher went missing, they were allegedly seen kissing by another student in the teacher's classroom.

The school district investigated the allegation, removed student Elizabeth Thomas from teacher Tad Cummins' class and said the teacher would be reprimanded. But the district said it was unable to confirm from available evidence that the kiss occurred.

Tennessee authorities are now asking for the public's help in their hunt for Cummins, 50, who is accused of kidnapping 15-year-old Elizabeth last Monday, March 13, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said. Neither Elizabeth nor Cummins has been in touch with their families, authorities said. Cummins is believed to be armed and authorities say the teen is "in imminent danger."

It was Jan. 23 when one of Elizabeth's schoolmates reported that as she was walking into Cummins' classroom she saw Elizabeth and Cummins kissing, according to a Jan. 30 school district investigative report.

"It wasn't like a make-out kiss, just a peck on the lips," the student said in a written statement quoted in the school district's report.

Pictured is Elizabeth Thomas, the subject of a statewide AMBER Alert in Tennessee.

The student told another schoolmate about what she said she had seen that day. The schoolmate said the student was "freaked out" by the alleged incident, according to the school district report.

The next day, the student took a different schoolmate with her to confront Cummins about what the student said she saw, the report said. Cummins allegedly told the students that he was "a father figure to Beth" and that he "saw her as a close and best friend," the report said.

The student reported what she said she had seen to school administrators.

The school district's investigative report said Elizabeth said Cummins had never kissed her nor made her feel uncomfortable.

"She looks at him like a friend and counselor who knows how to calm her down when she is experiencing anxiety," the district report said. "She stated students hang out in his classroom a lot."

Elizabeth also said that "she has gone to church with [Cummins] a few times but mainly hung around his wife," the report said.

Cummins also said no kiss took place, according to the district report. Cummins said Elizabeth is "a really good friend" who would go to see him “when she needs someone to calm her down," the report said. He said he loves his wife and would never cheat on her, the school report said.

Pictured is Tad Cummins, who is on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's 'Top 10 Most Wanted' list.

The Jan. 30 school report determined that it "could not be confirmed" the alleged kiss happened. The report said, however, that Elizabeth would be removed from Cummins' class and that "Cummins will be reprimanded in regards to his duty to uphold his professional responsibility and behavior."

An attorney for Elizabeth's family claimed in a Feb. 6 letter to the district superintendent that the teen's father was never alerted by the district about the alleged incident and found out about it on Jan. 31, more than a week after the kiss allegedly happened, when sheriff's deputies called to ask him questions.

The lawyer's letter also suggested that the teen was communicating with the teacher through her cellphone. "Upon inspection of her cellphone the two are also having telephone communications," the attorney's letter said.

Although the district said it couldn't confirm the alleged kiss happened, the report said Elizabeth would be removed from Cummins' class and that she should be "instructed to bring anxiety issues to the school administration and guidance counselors."

The report also said "Cummins will be reprimanded in regards to his duty to uphold his professional responsibility and behavior as a teacher."

A subsequent letter from the district to Cummins on Feb. 3 stated that Elizabeth was in the teacher's classroom that day, which the letter said violated a previous order by the district.

Three days later, on Feb 6., the district wrote a letter to Cummins telling him he was suspended without pay immediately "pending an investigation."

Cummins was fired Tuesday, one day after he and Elizabeth went missing.

The school district did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Today Cummins is wanted on allegations of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said that Cummins "may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom [the teen] ... in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her."

The teacher's wife, Jill Cummins, made an emotional plea to her husband at a news conference Friday, urging him to turn himself in.

"I had no idea my husband was involved with anything that has led to all this. My heart breaks for the family of Beth Thomas,” Jill Cummins said. “Please do the right thing and turn yourself into the police and bring Beth home.”

An Amber Alert was issued for Elizabeth, and Cummins is on Tennessee's "Top 10 Most Wanted" list, authorities said.

The TBI has received more than 450 leads, but there are no credible sightings of the duo, TBI spokesman Josh DeVine said today, a situation he called “very rare” after an Amber Alert was issued. Cummins and Elizabeth “could be anywhere,” DeVine said, as he urged for national vigilance.

"They are probably out of the view of the general public,” DeVine said, so the TBI is encouraging property owners, especially in rural areas, to search their grounds for suspicious activity. The TBI is also encouraging people to be on the lookout at campgrounds, parks, large parking lots, parking garages and other isolated areas.

The TBI said in a news release Saturday, "Nothing investigators have learned about Cummins or his intentions for the young girl since issuing the AMBER Alert calms the imminent concern for Elizabeth’s well-being. In fact, it only heightens it."

Thomas family attorney Jason Whatley told ABC News that Cummins was "taking advantage” of his student and "manipulating her into leaving with him."

The Thomas family and family attorney told ABC News that the day Elizabeth went missing, she told a sibling to call police if she wasn’t home by 6 p.m.

"We are very concerned about the control that he has over her," Whatley said. "We believe that is 100 percent the reason why she is missing at this point. He is the problem, she is not. She’s a child, she’s a victim."

Elizabeth's family said in a statement, "We ask that you continue to share Elizabeth's story and to immediately notify law enforcement if you think you may have seen her. You can be Elizabeth's eyes, her ears and her voice. your information or tip may be what leads to get this child home. As a family, we are focused on one thing and one thing only -- Elizabeth's safe and quick return."

Cummins is described as a white man with brown hair and brown eyes. He is 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 is described as a white girl with blonde hair and hazel eyes. She is 5 feet, 5 inches tall 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 Tad Cummins' arrest.