By Jim Urquhart
YREKA, Calif. (Reuters) - A former high school teacher and a 15-year-old student he is accused of abducting last month in Tennessee were traced to a cabin in northern California, where police on Thursday arrested him and took the girl into protective custody, authorities said.
Tad Cummins, 50, who vanished in mid-March with Elizabeth Thomas, was apprehended on a fugitive warrant charging him with aggravated kidnapping and unlawful sexual contact with a minor, law enforcement officials said.
He was arrested without incident on Thursday morning as he emerged from a small, rustic cabin in the mountains of rural Siskiyou County, California, about 60 miles (100 km) south of the Oregon border, county Sheriff Jon Lopey told reporters in nearby Yreka.
The girl walked out behind him and was later turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for additional questioning and a forensic exam, authorities said.
Both Cummins and the teenager looked healthy, but the girl was visibly emotional as the ordeal came to an end, Lopey said.
Investigators also recovered two loaded handguns and a collection of stones marked with the names of locations where the two had presumably stopped during their travels, Lopey said.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Kelly Giordano said the fugitive and his victim are believed to have stayed in the cabin for a day or two and were seeking odd jobs to earn money for food and gasoline in the surrounding Cecilville community.
Authorities zeroed in on them based on tips from locals who reported seeing a man, a young female and a car without license plates matching the description of the suspect's vehicle as identified in media accounts about the kidnapping case.
“They’re a very tight-knit community," Giordano said. "The vehicle and Tad stood out, because they were not local.”
Police surrounded the cabin Wednesday night and waited until morning for the pair to emerge. Cummins told arresting officers that he felt relief, Giordano said, adding that a man who let Cummins use the cabin was not considered a suspect.
Giordano said the cabin was located about a 30-minute drive from a commune known as Black Bear Ranch, but there was no indication that the pair spent any time there.
Cummins was jailed without bond in Yreka and was due to be arraigned on Friday, authorities said.
At a news conference in Nashville, Jack Smith, acting U.S. attorney for central Tennessee, said his office would add a federal charge against Cummins, for transportation of a minor across state lines for sexual intercourse. That offense carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Brent Cooper, district attorney for Maury County, where the kidnapping occurred, said Cummins' extradition would likely take weeks to arrange.
Cummins, who is married, and Thomas became the subject of a nationwide search after he apparently lured the girl into his car outside a restaurant in Columbia, Tennessee, about 45 miles south of Nashville.
He was fired from his teaching job after being accused of having an inappropriate relationship with Thomas.
(Additional reporting by Tim Ghianni in Nashville and Tom James in Seattle; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Dan Grebler and Lisa Shumaker)