AMBER Alert suspect Tad Cummins under arrest, missing 15-year-old found safe

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SISKIYOU COUNTY, Calif. (WVLT) -- According to the Tennesee Bureau of Investigation, AMBER Alert suspect Tad Cummins is under arrest. Missing 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas from Maury County has been safely recovered in Northern California.

Photo courtesy of WTVF

As of Friday afternoon at around 4 p.m., CBS News confirmed that Thomas was returned to the Nashville area, though they could not say whether or not she had been reunited with family there.

"Elizabeth Thomas is a beautiful 15-year-old girl," said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. "She is loved by her friends, her family and the community of Columbia. We couldn't be happier to tell you she will soon be on her way back home to Tennessee."

Kelly Giordano with the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office said Cummins' Nissan Rogue was found in Siskiyou County after 9 p.m. Wednesday. The sheriff's office said Thursday the two had only been in northern California for a few days when they were discovered.

According to the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office, a Special Response Team (SRT) responded to the scene where the car was reported found and established a perimeter around the cabin believed to be occupied by Cummins and Thomas. A man who became friends with the two helped the SRT members at the scene. Deputies waited outside in the cold for hours for the two to exit the cabin.

"At one point, the suspect did come out, walked around the area, you could see that he was actively looking around the surroundings," Lt. Behr Tharsing of the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office said. "They came back out, and it looked like they were trying to figure out whether we were there or not."

The Sheriff's Office used snipers positioned nearby to protect the tactical team that was dispatched to make the arrest.

Two loaded handguns were recovered in the cabin along with other personal items belonging to both Cummins and Thomas.

The sheriff's office said they were found near the Shasta Trinity National Forest. The distance from Maury County, Tennessee, to Siskiyou County, California, is nearly 2,450.9 miles - around a 36-hour drive.

"It's interesting Mr. Cummins made a spontaneous statement at the time that we took him down, 'I'm glad this over," Sgt. Mike Gilley of the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office said.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office said the cabin the two had been staying in was a one-room unit containing a foam mattress and a camp stove, with little cooking equipment.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office said Thomas appeared to be in good health. She will undergo a forensic interview and as a crime victim, she will receive any care that she requires at this time.

Cummins was taken by the SRT members without incident. He was transported to the Siskiyou County Jail in Yreka and booked on a Maury County, Tenn., fugitive arrest warrant for aggravated kidnapping. Cummins was set to be arraigned on Friday, April 21, 2017, at 10 a.m.

Memphis FBI and TBI investigators were en route to Siskiyou County to continue their investigation as of Thursday evening.

CBS-affiliate KTVL learned from deputies that an officer responded to a tip about Cummins' Nissan Rogue. The responding officer found the vehicle that had no license plates and ran the VIN number that came back as Cummins' vehicle.

In a video of Elizabeth's sister from CNN, Kat Thomas said, "It's amazing, and they [TBI] said that it appears that she's healthy and she's not injured, and it's amazing."

At the time of this release, efforts to reunite her with her family remained ongoing.

Thomas' sister said the two were found in a "very small" commune on the Oregon-California border. However, the TBI clarified that the pair were found near a cabin in a remote area, not on a commune. Thomas and Cummins were believed to be staying inside the cabin.

“Our Intelligence Analysts and Agents have worked tirelessly since issuing this AMBER Alert to process more than 1,500 leads from all 50 states,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “What happened in California this morning, however, proves it only takes one person to lead to a successful end. We are extremely thankful the hard work of all partners in this search has paid off. We’re also grateful for the public’s support and vigilance throughout this search effort.”

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Elizabeth will be flown home to Tennessee in TBI aircraft. Investigators said Elizabeth will be offered services for recovering when she returns back to Tennessee. Thomas' family attorney said she would not be returning home Thursday.

Prosecutors said federal charges were filed against Tad Cummins for transporting a minor across state lines for criminal sex. Officials said it could be several weeks before Tad Cummins brought back to Tennessee.

At the time of the TBI's release Thursday evening, Cummins remained in the custody of the Siskiyou County (CA) Sheriff’s Department without bond, awaiting extradition to Tennessee to face charges of Sexual Contact with a Minor and Aggravated Kidnapping.

Chief Deputy of Maury County Sheriff's Office said, "It's a good day," as he thanked the public for the help finding Elizabeth. The Maury County Sheriff's Office said nearly 1,500 tips were fielded in the search for Elizabeth Thomas.

When asked if Elizabeth wanted to go with Cummins, the TBI Director said, "She's a young girl with a grown man, and he needs to be held accountable."

Cummins has a hold for his extradition to Tennessee placed by the TBI. He is facing charges of sexual conduct with a minor and aggravated kidnapping.

TBI officials reported that Tad Cummins allegedly kidnapped Elizabeth Thomas on March 13.

Cummins was the missing teen's 50-year-old teacher. Cummins faces charges of sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping.

On Thursday night, Thomas' family stayed inside the office building of their lawyer, waiting to be able to talk to Elizabeth over the phone. However, Local 8 News was told that may not happen over the course of the evening.

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