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Tennessee Authorities Plead With Public in Search for Missing Teen

Authorities in Tennessee pleaded with the public on Monday to scour parking lots, campgrounds, parkland and other rural properties for any sign of a missing 15-year-old girl and her alleged abductor — a former teacher who was allegedly seen kissing the teen earlier this year.

Josh DeVine, a spokesman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, attributed this new urgency to a marked lack of confirmed sightings in the week since Elizabeth Thomas reportedly vanished with 50-year-old Tad Cummins and an Amber alert was sent out.

Image: Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas
Tad Cummins, 50, and Elizabeth Thomas, 15, in undated photos released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

"That's very rare for an Amber alert seven days in," said DeVine. "They're probably out of the view of the general public."

Authorities also released the last known picture of Thomas, taken shortly before her alleged kidnapping, and surveillance footage of Cummins at a WalMart in Columbia, about 50 miles south of Nashville.

The images, DeVine said, may offer a glimpse of how they may still look, or the clothes they might be wearing.

Cummins was added to Tennessee's most wanted list last week and has been charged with aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.

He began teaching at Culleoka Unit School in 2011, according to school records obtained by NBC News, and taught Thomas' freshman forensics class.

On January 23, a student reported seeing him kissing Thomas on the lips, the records say.

Elizabeth Thomas Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

Cummins and Thomas denied the incident — he described her as a "really good friend," the records say — though Thomas was barred from his classroom after another teacher said they appeared to spend too much time together.

On February 3, Thomas was again spotted again in his class. Three days later, Cummins was suspended without pay.

Thomas' 26-year-old brother, James, described his sister as friendly and intelligent. He told NBC News that his family didn't know about the incident at school until January 31, the day a detective contacted their father.

"There was a bit of distance between the time we knew and whenever the police and school officials knew," he said.

Wife of suspected kidnapper pleads: 'This is not who you are' 2:06

Maury County Superintendent Chris Marczak did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland.

On the day Elizabeth disappeared — Monday, March 13 — James said she told another sibling that if she wasn't home by 6 p.m. to call the police. In James' view, this meant that Cummins convinced her to do something she knew was wrong.

"She felt like she didn't have a choice," he said.