'Pure joy,' but concern, too, for family of formerly missing Tenn. student

Carolyn Kaster  AP

The exact path that Cummins and his student took from Tennessee to California isn't clear, but the teacher's next trip is: At some point, he'll be extradited to the Volunteer State to face charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, among other counts.

Griffin Barry, the man who says he tipped off police to the fact that Thomas and Cummins were in the area, says he first noticed the pair last week, buying gas.

On April 19, law enforcement authorities located Cummins and Elizabeth in northern California's remote Siskiyou County, where the student-teacher duo spent one night in a remote cabin in Cecilville in northwest of Redding.

(Thomas) indicated Cummins may have been consoling her when the student walked in. They appeared on store surveillance camera footage, and purchased bought women's razors, cheese cubes, chocolate, and KY jelly with cash.

He told Barry he was down to his last $10.

Thomas' friend, Ashlee Riggins, told NBC News that she was surprised that the pair had traveled as far as California and was thankful that the cabin owner caught on to them.

But Barry and some acquaintances eventually became suspicious, noting that Cummins was driving a vehicle without any license plates, and that Cummins' companion spoke few words for herself.

Hotel companies alerted authorities that the two had checked into motels in Oklahoma City and Guymon, Oklahoma, but they were gone by the time police got the tips, the complaint says.

A high school health sciences teacher in the Tennessee town of Culleoka, Cummins had been suspended in February, less than a month after a student reported seeing him and the 15-year-old kissing in a classroom.

Cummins and Thomas went under the names John and Joanna while at the commune, with their ages being 44 and 24, respectively.




The student related that Cummins rambled on and on about how much he loved his wife but indicated that [Thomas] sometimes went to church with him and his wife and that [Thomas] had a troubled past. He called the police. He faces charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, said Lawrence County Attorney General Brent Cooper.

Cummins was sacked about a month after being suspended - a day after the TBI issued an Amber Alert about the teen. Cummins was arrested Thursday after a tip led police to the cabin in Cecilville, California.

"Everybody was hoping for the best and the best is what we got".

Cummins' estranged wife, Jill Cummins, was "very emotional" when she learned both were found safe, her attorney Michael Cox said.

On Thursday morning, Barry asked Cummins to come outside and help him build a rock wall on the property.

Siskiyou County Sheriff's spokeswoman Kelly Giordano did not immediately return a call for comment.

"It was a very traumatic experience for her". She experienced a rollercoaster of emotions [.] Her response escalated during our interview with her. "But right now she really needs a lot of help".

That determination remains to be seen. "There is no doubt she suffered severe emotional trauma and that the process of her recovery is only just beginning", Whatley said in a statement Friday.

"We are extremely thankful the hard work of all partners in this search has paid off".

Elizabeth Thomas, 15, returned to Tennessee on Friday and is now in a "safe location with family and friends where she is comfortable and resting", said Jason Whatley, who is representing the Thomas family.

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