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Teacher accused of kidnapping had been reported kissing missing girl

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A teacher accused of kidnapping a 15-year-old female student in Tennessee had been investigated by the school system after another student reported seeing him kiss the girl, a lawyer for the missing girl’s family said.

Yet according to attorney Jason Whatley and school records, teacher Tad Cummins was allowed to continue working at Tennessee’s Culleoka Unit School for two weeks. Culleoka is about 60 miles south of Nashville near the Alabama state line.

Student Elizabeth Thomas was last seen March 13 and is believed to be with the 50-year-old teacher, authorities said.

In late January, another student saw the teacher kissing the girl on the lips, school records Whatley provided to The Associated Press show.

Despite the report from the other student, Cummins was allowed to continue teaching and nobody in the school system bothered notifying the girl’s family about the kiss allegations, Whatley added. He said the school system must have not believed the student’s report of seeing Cummins kiss the girl.

“This is my client’s daughter, and she’s been taken. She’s been abducted, and I can’t figure out for the life of me why no one believed this middle school student,” Whatley said.

The father, Whatley said, only learned of the kissing allegation a week later after a detective with the Maury County Sheriff’s Department went to the home to investigate. 

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Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas.

CBS News

The school system didn’t suspend Cummins until Feb. 6, the day that a letter from the father’s attorney was hand-delivered to Maury County school officials. The letter to Maury County School Superintendent Christopher Marczak demanded that the father be updated on what school officials had learned and that his daughter not have contact with the teacher.

The girl’s father, Anthony Thomas, is outraged that officials delayed telling him about the report and let the teacher continue working in the school, according to the lawyer.

“My client’s position, respectfully, is that Mr. Cummins should have been out the door until the police investigation was completed,” Whatley said.

Marczak did not return a call seeking comment.

School officials did send files to the father after the lawyer sent the letter.

The school’s investigative files provided to the father show that both Cummins and the girl denied kissing. The teacher, however, acknowledged that the girl was “a really good friend and she does leave her other classes to come see him when she needs someone to calm her down,” according to a school report dated Jan. 30. 

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Surveillance photo released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation shows Tad Cummins, a suspect in the disappearance of a 15-year-old student

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, WTVF-TV

The report said the allegation could not be confirmed but recommended that the girl be taken out of Cummins’ forensics class and that he be reprimanded to uphold his professional responsibility as a teacher. The report also recommended that the administration monitor Cummins’ classroom to make sure students weren’t there when they weren’t supposed to be. 

The teacher would later be reprimanded on Feb. 3 by school principal Penny Love after the girl was seen in Cummins classroom for a little more than half an hour that day. In her letter, Love said the girl being in his classroom was a violation of the principal’s order to him.

The teacher was fired a day after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an Amber Alert about the teen. He faces charges of sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping, “CBS This Morning” reported

On the day Thomas disappeared, both wrote cryptic messages on Instagram. She posted a quote about “Beauty and the Beast.” Cummins wrote: “Let’s do this.”

Thomas was last seen at a restaurant in Columbia, Tenn., last week, wearing black leggings and a flannel shirt. A friend dropped her off at Shoney’s Restaurant in Columbia the morning of March 13, the day she was last seen. About eight hours later, information obtained by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation placed the teenager about 70 miles away, in Decatur, Ala. 

Thomas’ and Cummins’ cellphones were turned off, CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca reported from Columbia.

Surveillance video appears to show Cummins putting gas in his silver Nissan before allegedly meeting up with Thomas on the morning she disappeared.  

TBI officials said they remain concerned about the girl’s safety because there have been so few sightings reported. The agency has issued two nationwide alerts to law enforcement, TBI spokesman Josh DeVine said. 

James Thomas has a message for the man suspected of taking his younger sister: “Even if he doesn’t go with her, if he could leave her somewhere safe and let the police know where she is, so we can have her, if he can just drop her in a public place and say, ‘Hey, here she is.’”