(OKLAHOMA CITY) — A former teacher and the 15-year-old student he allegedly kidnapped were spotted at a Walmart in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, two days after they disappeared, officials said Friday.
After receiving a tip late Thursday, investigators obtained surveillance images showing 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas and 50-year-old Tad Cummins at the store the afternoon of March 15, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said.
The Walmart surveillance images showed Cummins “with an altered appearance to darken his hair,” the TBI said.
“The same images show Elizabeth may currently have red hair,” the TBI added.
Cummins used cash to buy food at the Walmart but he didn’t buy “anything else of significance,” the TBI said. “Efforts to determine what vehicle they were traveling in remain ongoing.”
It’s the first confirmed sighting of the pair since Cummins was accused of kidnapping Elizabeth on March 13.
Cummins, who was fired one day after the alleged kidnapping, is wanted on allegations of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor. An Amber Alert has been issued for Elizabeth.
The TBI said it has received more than 1,200 tips as of Friday morning. Josh DeVine, a TBI spokesman, said Tuesday the TBI was “optimistic” about the outcome of the case, saying it takes only one lead “to turn this thing around.”
The TBI said that Cummins “may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom [the teen] … in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her.”
One of Elizabeth’s schoolmates reported seeing her and Cummins kiss in his classroom on Jan. 23, according to a school district investigative report, but both denied the claim. A school report from January reads that neither one “admitted to behaving inappropriately towards the other.”
Cummins, a married father and grandfather, researched teen marriage online, specifically the age of consent, according to law enforcement officials.
An attorney for the Thomas family, Jason Whatley, told ABC News last week that Cummins “preyed on her.”
“She is under his spell, and she is being controlled by him, and that is what is so scary,” Whatley said.
Mark Gwyn, the director of the TBI, said this week, “This is not a fairy tale. This is a case of kidnapping.”
“She may not realize she’s in danger. She may not realize she’s been taken against her will,” Brent Cooper, the district attorney for Maury County, told ABC News this week. “If you see them and they look happy, that doesn’t matter. This is a serious crime.”
Cummins is described as 6 feet tall and about 200 pounds. He may be driving a 2015 silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee license plate number 976-ZPT.
Elizabeth is described as about 5 feet tall. She was last seen wearing leggings and a flannel shirt.
Authorities are asking that anyone with information call 1-800-TBI-FIND and that anyone who sees a car with Tennessee license plate number 976-ZPT call 911.
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