Tennessee teacher Tad Cummins said he and his alleged teen kidnapping victim were a couple looking for help after losing everything in a house fire, according to the tipster who alerted authorities.
Griffin Barry, a caretaker for a group of vacation properties in Cecilville, California, said he initially thought Cummins, 50, and 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas were just a down-on-their-luck couple when he met them about a week ago, according to KOBI News.
However, Barry called authorities Wednesday night after realizing Cummins and Thomas were the subjects of a nationwide search. Cummins, a former high school teacher in rural Tennessee, kidnapped Thomas last month and wound up about 2,500 miles from home, authorities said.
After Barry’s tip, Cummins and Thomas were apprehended early Thursday.
At first, Barry tried to help the pair after Cummins claimed they had come from Colorado after losing all of their possessions in a house fire, according to WBIR News.
"He said he was on his last $10, so I gave him $40 and told him how to get to a commune up in the mountains," Barry said.
Barry also put gas in their car. When the pair came back, about a week later, Barry offered Cummins work. He also allowed Cummins and Thomas to stay at an unfinished cabin on the property he managed, NBC News affiliates KOBI and WBIR reported.
“I told him I could give him some work and help him out, so yesterday we moved rocks out of the river,” Barry said.
But Cummins was notably controlling and suspicious when it came to Thomas, Barry said.
“He talked for her a lot,” Barry told KOBI. “[Thomas] was kind of shy and timid, or something. He said she was 24, and he said he was 38.”
Barry said Cummins also kept Thomas away from other people. The teen often wore glasses, and the pair tried to stay "veiled," according to Barry,
"And a couple of times he always kept her in the car and he would be like 'she's asleep,' you know, and I'm like, ‘okay,’” Barry told KOBI. “I was kind of telling some people, you know, she never really looks at me, and [he's] always talking for her. I was like, whatever, they're on hard times or something."
It wasn’t until someone showed Barry an AMBER Alert and images of Cummins and Thomas that he realized the couple were hiding their real identities.
"Someone was showing me a picture, I was telling them, you know, and said 'That's the guy,'" Barry told KOBI.
At daybreak Thursday, Siskiyou County authorities were able to take Cummins into custody without incident and rescue Thomas, who appeared to be unharmed. Two loaded handguns had been in Cummins' possession, according to police.
"We are so thankful that they have both been found safe," Daphne Quinn, Tad Cummins' sister, told NBC News. "And we are incredibly grateful to the tipster who is responsible for finding them."
Jill Cummins, Ashlee Conner, and Erica Osborne, Cummins' estranged wife and daughters, released a statement on Friday saying they are happy Thomas will be returned to her family. The family said they did not have any comment or opinion about what should happen to Cummins.
Cummins now faces federal charges for taking a minor over state lines for the purpose of sex, WBIR reported.
He will also face charges of sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping once he is extradited back to Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations.
Cummins has been taken into federal custody in Sacramento, where it is expected he will be arraigned on Monday.