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The Journal Gazette

Friday, April 21, 2017 1:00 am

Teacher arrested in California; missing teen safe

Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A 15-year-old Tennessee girl was rescued near a cabin in a remote part of northern California on Thursday, more than a month after her 50-year-old teacher kidnapped her and set off a nationwide manhunt, authorities said.

Health sciences teacher Tad Cummins surrendered to sheriff's deputies 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, and 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. The Associated Press is not naming the girl or her family members because she is an alleged victim of a sex crime.

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 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.

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.

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 teacher was later reprimanded Feb. 3 by school principal Penny Love after the girl was seen in Cummins' classroom after she was barred from being there. He was suspended Feb. 6 and fired about a month later – a day after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an Amber Alert about the teen.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said looked into more than 1,500 leads from all 50 states.

The teacher's wife of 31 years, Jill, filed for divorce since the disappearance. The couple has two children together.