TBI translates Amber Alert into Spanish, girl still missing

March 23, 2017: The family of Elizabeth Thomas is pleading for the public's help to find the missing 15-year-old.

MAURY COUNTY, TENN. - Update 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, 2017: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has translated a two-week-long Amber Alert into Spanish in an attempt to find a missing 15-year-old Tennessee girl.

Authorities said there have been no credible sightings of Elizabeth Thomas or Tad Cummins.

Thomas and Cummins, 50, were last seen on Monday, March 13. An Amber Alert was issued the following day.

Update 2:30 pm Monday, March 27, 2017:

It's been two weeks since authorities say a 15-year-old Tennessee girl disappeared with her teacher, and since then, there's been no credible sighting of Elizabeth Thomas or 50-year-old Tad Cummins.

Thomas was last seen being dropped off by a friend at the Shoney’s in Columbia around 8 a.m. on March 13.

Law enforcement agencies across the country have been notified about the Amber Alert, and now the word is spreading south of the border.

The TBI confirms that through the FBI, information about Thomas and Cummins has been shared with law enforcement agencies in Mexico and Central America.

"This is, however, in the name of due diligence. We have no specific information Tad Cummins took Elizabeth Thomas across the border," said TBI spokesperson Leslie Earhart.

At this point, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has received more than 1,000 leads about the pair, but there have not been any confirmed sightings.


Update Noon Thursday

As the nationwide search for Elizabeth Thomas and Tad Cummins stretches into the second week, Elizabeth's family has released a statement thanking everyone for their prayers. 

Investigators believe Thomas, a 15-year-old from Middle Tennessee, disappeared with her ex-teacher, 50-year-old Tad Cummins, on March 13. There have been no confirmed sightings since that day and an Amber Alert was issued the next day. 

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has received hundreds of tips but publicly acknowledged that they could be anywhere in the country and working to stay out of the sight of the general public. 

A TBI spokesperson has stressed that it only takes one solid lead to bring Elizabeth home.

The agency also revealed this week that Cummins researched 'teen marriage' just a few days before he and Elizabeth disappeared. There have been no confirmed sightings since Monday, March 13.

The agency also released a new picture of the pair at school in January 2017, just a few days before alleged inappropriate contact between the two.

Everyone should remain on the lookout for the suspect vehicle, a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tags 976-ZPT. You should call 911 immediately if you see it. 

The Thomas family issued this statement through their attorney:

"The last 10 days have been the most difficult in the life of the Thomas family. We want to sincerely thank those of you throughout the country who are praying for Elizabeth's safe and speedy return.

The family has been overwhelmed with the kindness shown to us by the Maury County community and beyond. We humbly ask that you continue to pray as we do our best to cope with the emotional weight of Elizabeth's abduction.

We also thank the press, both local and national, for its continuous coverage of Elizabeth's abduction. It is critical to finding Elizabeth that we broadcast to the widest possible audience so as to keep Elizabeth's story in front of as many people as possible. Hopefully, this awareness will assist law enforcement with tips that will lead to Elizabeth.

The family certainly expresses as well its sincere thanks and praise for law enforcement. The Maury County Sheriff's Department, the District Attorney General's Office for the 22nd Judicial District, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have worked tirelessly to find Elizabeth. We ask that the public stay vigilant and provide law enforcement with any information, no matter how insignificant you might perceive it, that could relate to Elizabeth's whereabouts. Law enforcement needs tips.

Finally, we want to also address the Maury County Schools, as the teachers and administration are the core of our community. The Thomas family has the utmost respect and admiration for our teachers. They are the backbone of Maury County. We love Maury County Schools, especially Culleoka.

It is important to the Thomas family to emphasize that none of the reports about possible mistakes regarding Tad Cummins prior to Elizabeth's disappearance are relevant to what we are doing right now. Our focus should be on finding Elizabeth. Period.

To do that, we need as much information as possible, including from the school system. We know that each teacher and administrator of Maury County Schools mourns as we do over this tragedy and wishes daily for Elizabeth's safe return. Despite some of the stories that have been broadcast, the Thomas family wishes to express that the family and the schools are unified in this singular desire. Whatever questions about how issues were handled when Elizabeth was in school are distant and secondary and, in many ways, distracting, to the core issue of finding her. We thank the Maury County School System for its continued help in finding Elizabeth.

We are desperate for any information that might lead to our daughter. The information that we need is not only what people have seen and heard after Elizabeth's disappearance, but also from before. Facts about prior events, especially interaction between Elizabeth and Tad Cummins and statements made by both to third parties, may very well contain clues to lead to Elizabeth's return.

The Thomas family asks that the community in particular revisit events leading to Elizabeth's disappearance and come forward with any information that you believe might give insight into the mind of either Elizabeth or Mr. Cummins. Elizabeth must be found. Time is of the essence.

Thank you, and may God be with Elizabeth."

 

UPDATE 7:30 p.m. TUESDAY

Tuesday marked one week since an AMBER Alert was issued following the disappearance of 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas. Investigators believe the Middle Tennessee teen is with her 50-year-old ex-teacher, Tad Cummins.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation stressed on Tuesday that it only takes one solid lead to bring Elizabeth home. 

The agency also revealed that the former teacher researched 'teen marriage' just a few days before he and Elizabeth disappeared. There have been no confirmed sightings since Monday, March 13.

Investigators have received only a few hundred tips. They believe that the pair could be anywhere in the country at this point and want nationwide vigilance to try and find them. 

TBI also revealed Tuesday that they have determined that hair dye purchased by Cummins was "not part of his intended plan" for Thomas. 

The agency also released a new picture of the pair at school in January 2017, just a few days before alleged inappropriate contact between the two. 

Everyone should remain on the lookout for the suspect vehicle, a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tags 976-ZPT. You should call 911 immediately if you see it. 

 

UPDATE 4:15 P.M. MONDAY: Despite receiving more than 450 tips, the TBI says there have been no credible sightings of a missing 15-year-old girl from Middle Tennessee and the 50-year-old man she is believe to be with. 

Because of the lack of confirmed sightings, officials believe Tad Cummins likely has Elizabeth Thomas hidden from public view or far away from Tennessee, TBI spokesperson Josh DeVine said Monday. 

"TBI would like to encourage property owners especially in rural areas to search their property for suspicious activity," DeVine said. He said they are also asking workers in campgrounds, parks and other isolated areas to search their land.

He said they're also asking businesses with large parking lots and parking garages to search them for a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tags 976ZPT that Cummins is believed to be driving. 

TBI released a new photo of Thomas, which is the most recent one they have. It shows her wearing a flannel shirt and black leggings. DeVine said they don't believe Thomas had many belongings with her when she disappeared, so it is possible she is still wearing the same clothes she was wearing when she was last seen on Monday, March 13.

 

 

Last Tuesday, The Maury County School District terminated Cummins, who had been a teacher there, in light of an investigation into alleged inappropriate contact he had with a student.

DeVine said TBI still has "no idea" where Cummins and Thomas may be. 

"Our message to Elizabeth is we're still coming for you. We're going to do everything in our possibility, everything in our capability to bring you home," DeVine said. 

DeVine said investigators are uncovering a "troubling pattern of behavior" from Cummins. 

"What we are learning about him is not calming our fears," he said. "[Thomas] is a victim. She may not realize it, but she is a victim." 

TBI also released surveillance video showing Cummins shopping at a Wal-Mart.

Cummins was added to the TBI Top 10 Most Wanted List on Friday. There is a $1,000 reward for information leading to his capture. 

DeVine said it is "very rare" for there to be no credible sightings for an AMBER Alert almost seven days old.

Anyone who believes they see Thomas or Cummins is asked to call 1-800-TBI-FIND or 911 immediately. 

UPDATE NOON MONDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released new pictures of a suspect on its Top 10 Most Wanted list who is the subject of an Amber Alert.

The TBI released the photos of Tad Cummins just before noon Monday. The photos of Cummins, 50, were captured a week before the kidnapping of Elizabeth Thomas.

Thomas, 15, was last seen in Columbia, Tenn., on Monday morning with Cummins.

 

 

UPDATE 6:30 P.M. SATURDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said it has received about 250 tips regarding the location of a missing Middle Tennessee teen. 

That's about 75 new tips regarding missing teen Elizabeth Thomas' location since Friday night's news conference. The TBI said those tips have now come from 24 different states. Officials said that number is low, and it suggests suspected kidnapper Tad Cummins could be keeping Thomas out of sight. 

The TBI has also announced a $1,000 reward for information leading to Cummins' capture. 

 

UPDATE 8 P.M. FRIDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has added the suspect of a Middle Tennessee AMBER Alert to its Top 10 Most Wanted list

Tad Cummins, 50, was last seen in Columbia, Tennessee, on Monday morning with 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas. 

The TBI also shared new photos Cummins taken in the past few weeks before he disappeared, and the vehicle he's believed to be driving. 

 

 

A TBI spokesperson called the situation "very dire" at a Friday news conference. He said officials have "no idea" where Cummins and Thomas are, and asked for the public's help across the country in locating them.

UPDATE 5:15 PM FRIDAY: The wife of a man sought in the kidnapping of a 15-year-old Maury County girl pleaded Friday afternoon for her husband to turn himself in.

"Tad, this is not you," Jill Cummins said during a Friday afternoon press conference staged at the Maury County Sheriff's Office. "This is not who you are. We can help you get through this, no matter how far you've gone or what’s happening right now. God’s grace is sufficient for you and he wants you to come home. Your family wants their poppy back."

Her voice breaking, Jill Cummins added: "Please do the right thing and turn yourself into the police and bring Beth back home."

Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas have not been seen in four days. An AMBER Alert has been issued for her.

Prosecutors have authorized a new charge against Cummins - aggravated kidnapping, said District Attorney General Brent Cooper.

Josh DeVIne, TBI spokesman, said Friday at the press conference that the agency so far has received about 175 tips. That's "shockingly" low, he said.

"We have no idea where these individuals could be right now," he said. "This is a dire situation for this girl right now."

DeVine said the TBI hoped hearing from his wife directly would sway Cummins.

Cummins has firearms, which raises further concerns for investigators, DeVine said.

VIDEO: Full TBI news conference on search for Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas

Jill Cummins told reporters she was "deeply troubled" by her husband's disappearance with Elizabeth. She said she had no idea he would do anything like this.

If convicted of aggravated kidnapping, Cummins could face eight to 12 years in prison, Cooper said. The prosecutor said if Cummins provides information that leads to the girl's return or if he voluntarily releases her, that would weigh in his favor legally.

"His actions can determine how serious the outcome is. I urge Mr. Cummins to pick up the phone," Cooper said.

Anyone who may have interacted with either Thomas or Cummins before their disappearance should call TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.

The TBI expects soon to release new photos of Cummins taken just a few days before he and the girl disappeared, DeVine said.

It will also be adding Cummins to the agency's Top 10 Most Wanted list.

PREVIOUS STORY:  The 15-year-old victim of an ongoing AMBER Alert, and the 50-year-old man she may be with, could "frankly, be anywhere" at this point, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Thursday. 

Elizabeth Thomas, 15, is believed to be with an ex-teacher from her school, Tad Cummins. Authorities say he is armed with two handguns. The pair may be driving a Silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tags 976ZPT.

“It’s absolutely important that everyone in this nation know about these individuals because frankly, they could be anywhere right now,” TBI spokesperson Josh Devine said during an update Thursday afternoon. 

The two were last seen on Monday morning in Columbia, Tennessee; however, investigators have info placing Thomas in the area of Decatur, Alabama on Monday afternoon. 

Since issuing an AMBER Alert Tuesday evening in Tennessee and Alabama, TBI said it has received just 125 tips. 

“If 125 leads sounds like a low number, it is. It is the lowest number of leads for an AMBER Alert that we’ve seen go this long. It is alarmingly low,” Devine said.  He explained that it indicates the pair may be out of the view of the general public or outside the area across the southeast that have been notified.

Former Knoxville Police Chief Phil Keith, who also used to run the national AMBER Alert system, weighed in on the case Thursday. 

Keith said the more their photos are kept in the public eye, the more likely they will be found. 

"When AMBER Alerts are issued, the child is recovered in a very high percentage, 98 or 99 percent," Keith said. 

He urged people not to give up hope. 

"The least little bit of a hint can save that child’s life," he added. 

He said the two could be anywhere so it's important for officers to stay vigilant and for people to stay aware of their surroundings. 

"Anyone that has children and has a love for children they are acutely tuned into those kinds or messages so you have more eyes looking," Keith said. 


On Thursday, TBI issued a second nationwide BOLO so that every agency knows about the alert. 

“Law enforcement can not do this alone. We need the public to keep an eye out, pay attention," Devine said.  

TBI also revealed Thursday that it has found a troubling pattern of behavior suggesting Cummins may have been abusing his role as a teacher to lure and potentially sexually exploit Thomas. 

Cummins was a teacher at Culleoka Unit School, where Elizabeth went to school. 

District Attorney General Brent Cooper has said that Cummins is wanted in connection to an alleged sexual interaction between Cummins and a minor. The school district suspended him when those allegations surfaced and he was fired on Tuesday. 

Investigators have put together a timeline placing Cummins and Thomas in the same area just before their disappearance on Monday: 

• 7:30 - 7:45 a.m. Monday: A friend of Elizabeth Thomas drops her off at the Shoney's in Columbia, Tenn. 

• 8:32 a.m.: Surveillance video appears to show Tad Cummins at a nearby Shell station

• 12:41 p.m.: Maury County Sheriff's Department enters Thomas as 'missing' in NCIC, nation's law enforcement internal communications database 

• 3:06 p.m.: Information places Thomas in the area of Decatur, Ala. 

Anyone who may have interacted with either Thomas or Cummins before their disappearance should call TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND. 

If you spot the suspect vehicle and can verify the license plate to be TN 976-ZPT, authorities say to call 911. 

© 2017 WBIR.COM


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