On Friday, FBI Agent Utley Noble testified against Tad Cummins in a Nashville, Tennesse, courtroom, and revealed how the former teacher allegedly brainwashed a teen girl and eluded authorities for 38 days.
Cummins’ ultimate plan, according to Noble, was to make it to Mexico with a 15-year-old teen by his side. He already had their names and ages picked out before they arrived: John and Joanne Castro, ages 40 and 24, respectively. Apparently, Cummins chose the last name Castro so that it would be easier to fit in once they crossed the border.
The Teen’s Troubled Life
Elizabeth Thomas’ home life was less than ideal. A product of a broken home, she was one of 10 of her mother’s children. She lived with her father and a handful of her siblings after her mother, Kimberly Ann Thomas, was charged with felony child abuse. Kimberly Ann hadn’t talked to her daughter in over a year when Elizabeth disappeared. During questioning, Elizabeth told detectives that her mother “banged her head into the agitator of the washing machine,” pushed her down a flight of stairs, and made her get naked in front of strangers.
According to Abuse Watch, a large number of children who are groomed by adults come from single family homes. They also tend to have a need for love and affection that they aren’t getting at home, which is common when a single parent is raising numerous children. Elizabeth’s father, Anthony Thomas, worked long hours, which prevented him from giving his children, routine, specialized attention.
Elizabeth was in Cummin’s health sciences class at Culleoka Unit School in Maury County, Tennessee. According to accounts by several other students at the school, Cummins would give Elizabeth extra attention on a daily basis. He even had a “special seat” in front his desk in his classroom that Elizabeth would often sit in while sharing her issues with the former teacher.
If she had problems at home, Cummins was always there to console her, but experts state that he took it too far and crossed the boundaries of student/teacher relationship with the intentions of eventually making the relationship physical. According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), Cummins was “abusing his role as a teacher to groom this vulnerable young girl … to lure and potentially sexually exploit her.”
Cummins never made it to Mexico. He was captured in Siskiyou County, California, a little over a month after he fled Maury County, Tennessee, with Elizabeth. He now faces charges of kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor. He also faces a federal charge of “transportation of a minor across state lines for the purpose of having criminal sexual intercourse.” Prosecutors are also fighting to add on a statutory rape charge.
Grooming Signs to Watch Out For
Grooming happens every day to children while unsuspecting parents don’t sense anything until it’s too late. According to NSPCC, grooming is defined as an adult building an emotional bond and relationship with a minor with the intent of sexual abuse, sex trafficking, or sexual exploitation. These “groomers” can be a next-door neighbor, a teacher, a family friend, and even a family member. In most instances, children have no idea they’re being groomed and it’s ultimately up to the parents or caregivers to know the signs and to remain proactive.
Commons signs that a child may be getting groomed include:
– The child has secretive online behavior
– An adult wants to spend or spends an unusual amount of time with the child
– The child has no interest in a relationship with someone their own age
– An adult that seems “too good to be true” and too eager to help
– An adult who seems to hug the child excessively
– Providing favors, solo trips, and special gifts to a solo child only
– An adult who’s known as the “cool adult” who lets the child break rules
– The adult that you think would never be capable of grooming a child
Keep in mind that these signs do not always mean that a child being groomed. It’s best to consult with a professional while keeping a close eye on your child.
If you suspect a child is being groomed, contact your local law enforcement agency or the National Center for Victims of Crime at 202-467-8700. You can also leave a tip for Crime Online at 800-880-2356.
[Feature Photo: Handout]