MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The suspect and victim at the center of a Tennessee Amber Alert were found in northern California on Thursday morning.
Investigators arrested Tad Cummins, the man at the center of a nationwide Amber Alert. They located and safely recovered Elizabeth Thomas, the teen Cummins is accused of kidnapping,
Officials said Cummins, 50, kidnapped Thomas, 15, on March 13 from Maury County, Tennessee.
The two were found in Cecilville, a rural town in northern California, after Tennessee Bureau of Investigation received a call to the TBI tip line around 11 p.m. CDT on Wednesday night.
"Ultimately it took a tip to see this resolution and to the public, I thank you," said Chief Deputy Ray Jeter with the Murray County Sheriff's Office.
One man said he encountered Cummins and Thomas in northern California.
"I saw them a week ago," said Griffin Barry. "They said they were from Colorado. He said he had a house fire and lost everything lost his job."
Barry said he helped them after Cummins told him they didn't have any money when they ran out of gas in Cecilville, California.
Barry gave them $40 and gave them directions to Big Bear Ranch Commune several miles away.
Cummins and Thomas showed back up in Cecilville a week later and Barry gave Cummins work and said they could stay in a one room unfinished cabin, which they did.
"He talked for her a lot,' Barry said. "She was kind of shy, timid. He said she was 24 and he was 38."
On Wednesday, a Cecillville resident realized the couple was part of a nationwide Amber Alert and called law enforcement.
"What happened in California this morning, however, proves it only takes one person to lead to a successful end. We are extremely thankful the hard work of all partners in this search has paid off. We're also grateful for the public's support and vigilance throughout this search effort," said TBI Director Mark Gwyn.
Authorities found Cummins' Nissan Rogue on Thursday morning. The vehicle's original license plate had been removed, but officials were able to confirm the vehicle through its VIN.
Investigators received reports that Cummins had two guns with him, so they called a tactical unit to set up a perimeter around the cabin he was thought to be inside.
The tactical unit said it did not wish to initiate conflict with Cummins. Eventually Cummins surrendered himself and Thomas to the tactical unit.
Cummins walked out of the cabin and told a Siskiyou County Sheriff officer, "I'm glad this is over."
Investigators said they are still working to reunite Thomas with her family. Thomas will be flown back on a TBI aircraft, but officials won't say where exactly her flight will be landing.
The family's attorney spoke on the family's behalf saying they felt "elated" that Thomas is safe and will be returning home.
"It may be a long road, but at least we've got her back now. We've got her back!" Thomas' father, Anthony, said. "I don't even want to think about Tad. It's a good day, OK? They [law enforcement] are going to take care of Tad [Cummins], I'm sure. Let's not worry about him. I'm just happy to have her."
A representative from the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Cummins would face federal charges in addition to the state charges TBI already filed against him.
TBI said Thomas is healthy and unharmed, and now their main concern is how she is emotionally.
"At the end of the day she is 15-year-old girl with a man who is 50 years old," TBI Director Mark Gwyn said. "He needs to be held accountable for kidnapping this girl."
"As soon as she's ready for any help we can offer, we'll be there for her," said 22nd District Attorney General Brent Cooper.
Cummins is a former teacher from Thomas' school. TBI said he groomed Thomas to be his victim. The school district previously investigated Cummins after a student reported seeing Cummins kiss Thomas at school.
Cummins is being held by the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department without bond. He is awaiting extradition to Tennessee, but he is scheduled to make a court appearance in California on Friday morning.