California authorities that arrested 50-year-old Tad Cummins last week witnessed his grooming behavior towards his former teen student. The former Tennessee teacher and 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas had disappeared together on March 13, prompting a national manhunt, and were found in a Northern California remote cabin last week.
Siskiyou County (California) Sheriff Jon Lopey told People that at one point Cummins and Thomas sat at a picnic table together and talked with authorities.
“There were a couple of times she giggled, she giggled and cried, and at times they were serious,” he said. “I’m sure the emotions were escalating and deflating with each moment.”
Lopey said in the report that Cummins would comfort Thomas.
“They seemed to comfort each other. She got emotional with crying and he attempted to comfort her, and then when we had to take her away, [it] seemed to be somewhat emotionally difficult for her.”
Lopey said that he and other police recognize that the teen has been traumatized.
According to police, Thomas’ “emotions kind of fluctuated” while she spoke with them.
“At times she was emotionally crying, sometimes she was stoic, sometimes she would engage in conversation — but most of the time she was silent,” Lopey says.
He found a single sleeping pad in the cabin where the pair were found. According to the report, Lopey, disputes the idea that Thomas might have left willingly with Cummins. Other authorities agree with Lopey.
“I don’t think a 15-year-old is in a position to consent with a 50-year-old,” Lopey said. “I think she’s a victim, and no matter what her thought process was, she’s a victim and he’s a sexual predator.”
He went on to call Cummins domineering figure.
The teen had collected rocks from all the places that she and Cummins traveled to. Prosecutors claim they moved through at least 9 states. According to People, she asked police if she could keep the rocks for sentimental reasons.
She was reunited with her family in Tennessee on Friday, after Cummins’ arrest.
Her older brother James Thomas echoed Lopey’s sentiments about his sister’s relationship with Cummins.
“She was taken from her family by a 50-year-old man, whether she was coerced or not and everything is … well, I believe the coercion,” the brother told People. “I don’t believe it was her idea. It was more him putting ideas [in her head]. … The easiest way to manipulate somebody is to make it their choice, make them come up with the plans.”
According to Lopey, Cummins appeared calm after being caught and he allegedly said, “I don’t care about my stuff. My main concern is taking care of [Elizabeth].”
Lopey also confirmed the account of Griffin Barry — the man who set the pair up in the cabin and later reported them to authorities after becoming suspicious. He said that the pair were using the names “John” and “Joanna.”
According to Lopey, Cummins allegedly “elaborated on some techniques and procedures he was using … to avoid detection.” One such technique was paying with cash and using license plates from numerous states, including Alabama and Colorado.
Before spending a week in the remote cabin in California the two allegedly went to Black Bear Ranch, about 20 miles away from the cabin. Lopey described the ranch as a commune dating back to the 1960s according to the report. According to the report, Cummins was allegedly interested in the ranch because “he was looking for refuge and association with that type of crowd, where he would be accepted and less visible, because that’s a very remote location.”
Ranch officials said on their website that Cummins and Thomas arrived there “having had no previous contact with Black Bear and stayed for a few days until they were asked to leave.”
The ranch also stated that they do “not condone the acts that Tad Cummins has been charged with nor does it condone these practices by anyone.”
[Tennessee Bureau of Investigation]