Weeks before a student and teacher went missing, another teen reported seeing them kiss
(CULLEOKA, Tenn.) -- Nearly two months before a high school student and her former teacher went missing, they were alleged to have been 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.
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.
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."
It's been a week, but we're not giving up hope. Stay vigilant, stay alert, and let us know if you spot these individuals or this vehicle. pic.twitter.com/jDACuW1iUg— TBI (@TBInvestigation) March 20, 2017
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 has been issued for Elizabeth, and Cummins has been added to the state's "Top 10 Most Wanted" list, authorities said.
The TBI said Saturday it has received about 250 tips from 24 states, which it called a low number.
"Cummins may have taken her, frankly, anywhere," 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."
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.
NEW PICTURES: Various shots of Ted Cummins in the past few weeks, including the vehicle he's believed to be driving. TN TAG: 976-ZPT. pic.twitter.com/mlrPPlcXoQ— TBI (@TBInvestigation) March 17, 2017
Elizabeth is described as a white girl with blonde hair, 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 Tennessee license plate 976-ZPT call 911. A $1,000 reward is available for information leading to Tad Cummins' arrest.
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