COLUMBIA, Tenn. - More than two weeks after a 15-year-old girl disappeared with her 50-year-old teacher from central Tennessee, there is still no sign of where they are today.
Authorities involved in the ongoing AMBER Alert to find Elizabeth Thomas pleaded with the public today to stay vigilant and call 911 if you see her or Tad Cummins.
Tips can also be reported to 1-800-TBI-FIND, but authorities urged tips that need immediate attention to be reported to 911 so law enforcement can respond quickly.
"If you find yourselves driving behind them, do what you can to safely snap a picture and call 911. It only takes one tip," said TBI spokesperson Josh DeVine. He said more than 1,100 tips have come in from across the country to 1-800-TBI-FIND, but some have been too late to act on.
At this point, investigators need the public to share what's happening to Elizabeth Thomas with everyone they know.
"Go to the TBI's website, copy that amber alert flyer, and share that with your friends and family south of the border," said District Attorney General Brent Cooper.
Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland said it's other "off grid" people who might see them.
"To hunters and things like that, we want you to be aware of what's going on. If you're in those secluded areas be aware of what's out there," he said.
Victim blaming, and claims of "romance"
Some have speculated Thomas, 15, went with Cummins, 50 willingly. TBI Director Mark Gwyn cautioned the public against victim blaming.
"Let me be clear. She is 15, a child. He is 50, a grown man," said Gwyn. "She is a high school freshman. He is a former teacher. This is, and was not, a romance. This was manipulation solely to benefit Tad Cummins. This is not a fairy tale. This is a case of kidnapping."
Gwyn said they will not stop until they bring her home. "When a fifty-year-old man kidnaps a 15-year-old girl, we have reason to believe that she's in danger," he said.
Cooper added more clarification.
"The term romance being used to describe this... early on, when it was released that there were communications, emails between the two, I was asked about the content of those emails," explained Cooper. "I would not disclose the content, and we still do not intend to disclose the content of those emails, but I was asked to describe the emails. I used the term 'romantic interest." In hindsight, I should have used a different term, probably 'grooming,' because that's exactly what was going on. You had a 50-year-old educated man who was obviously trying to convince this vulnerable 15-year-old girl that being in a
relationship with him was the right thing to do."
"This is not a romance, there is nothing pretty about this. This is a crime and it's a serious crime," Cooper added.
Gwyn urged Cummins to do the right thing.
"As a self-proclaimed man of faith, you have the power to answer the prayer of your family, the community and so many people across the country to bring Elizabeth home," Gwyn added.
If you see Elizabeth Thomas or Tad Cummins, please call 911 so your local law enforcement can respond immediately.
"We've conducted a lot of interviews. If there is someone who is holding out, we hope they'd understand the seriousness and come
forward with information," said Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland.