FBI agent details Tad Cummins’ cross-country trip

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation testified in court Friday during a hearing for Tad Cummins, the former Maury County teacher accused of kidnapping a 15-year-old student.

A judge deemed the 50-year-old a flight risk, ordering he remain in custody until his upcoming trial, a date for which has yet to be set.

Special Agent Utley Noble testified on behalf of the prosecution, detailing the cross-country trip Cummins took with Elizabeth Thomas. The two were the subject of a 38-day AMBER Alert, travelling from Columbia, Tennessee, to rural northern California where they were eventually found by a young man from Brentwood, Tennessee.

TIMELINE: Search for Elizabeth Thomas, Tad Cummins

Agent Noble testified the details were admitted by Cummins upon his capture on April 20, saying he confessed to arranging to switch cars with his wife on March 13, filling up at a Columbia gas station, and picking up the 15-year-old student. He also left his wife a note, saying he needed to “clear my mind of all this crap.”

The letter Tad Cummins left for his wife, Jill, the morning he disappeared March 13, 2017. (Credit: WKRN)

The two first travelled south to Decatur, Alabama, where they reportedly threw their phones into the Tennessee River. At some point, Cummins reportedly admitted to disabling the GPS on his car and replacing his license plate with one from Alabama.

After leaving Decatur, they travelled to Birmingham and started heading west to Mississippi, staying in Mississippi for at least one night before heading northwest to Oklahoma. While there, they were caught on surveillance at two different Walmart stores.

Agent Noble says one of the items Cummins purchased was an iPad in order to stay up to date with news about the case and know what was being reported. Cummins also reportedly admitted to seeing the plea from his wife, who spoke at a press conference on March 17 asking her husband to “do the right thing.”

From Oklahoma, Cummins and Thomas headed to Colorado where they began using aliases. The FBI agent says they presented themselves as John and Joann Castro, a married couple ages 40 and 24 respectively. Cummins reportedly chose a Hispanic last name since their ultimate destination was Mexico.

Tad Cummins in court on May 12, 2017.
(Courtesy: Erin Plew)

Agent Noble testified the duo then drove to southern California where they purchased a kayak in San Diego. Previously released court documents said the goal was to travel by boat to cross the U.S. border into Mexico.

MORE: Federal document sheds light on actions of Cummins, Thomas

Cummins reportedly told the FBI that while testing the kayak, he ran into a law enforcement officer who gave them tips about the boat. He and Thomas were out on the water when that same officer came out to warn them the water was rough. Cummins assumed they’d been found out and became scared, the FBI agent said.

After leaving San Diego, they drove about 150 miles west to Slab City, a commune in the Sonoran Desert, where Cummins slept with his gun by his side. It’s not known how long they stayed before they began travelling north.

Ultimately, the two met Griffin Barry, the Brentwood native who works as the caretaker of a rural California property. The FBI agent testified Barry felt bad for Cummins and Thomas, befriending them and filling their car up with gas.

From there, Cummins and Thomas reportedly travelled to the Black Bear Ranch, a commune tucked into a rough, mountainous region in Siskiyou County, California. After staying at the commune for two days, a member reportedly asked them to leave.

As previously reported, Cummins trusted Barry and travelled back to his property. Barry told them they could stay at a cabin on the property as long as they agreed to work, but within 48 hours, the young man became suspicious, ultimately calling 911 when he realized who Cummins and Thomas were.

PHOTOS: Inside Tad Cummins’ California cabin

Cummins faces charges in Tennessee of kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor after he allegedly kissed Thomas while at school. Federally, the 50-year-old faces one count of transportation of a minor across state lines for the purpose of having criminal sexual intercourse.

Click here to read more on the AMBER Alert case for Elizabeth Thomas.

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