As authorities arrested a former Tennessee teacher last week for allegedly kidnapping his teenage female student, they witnessed an emotional scene between the pair — one that, they believe, showed the to which the girl was allegedly subjected.
On Wednesday night, investigators received a tip that , 15, and her 50-year-old former health sciences teacher, , were living in a remote cabin in Northern California, near Cecilville.
The pair and been the subject of an ongoing AMBER Alert before Cummins was arrested and Elizabeth was safely recovered. (Cummins was fired from his job after he and the teen went missing.)
Siskiyou County, California, Sheriff Jon Lopey tells PEOPLE they had “an emotional attachment” and that early in authorities’ confrontation with the pair, they were mostly kept separate — but at one point, they sat at a picnic table together and had a visibly emotional conversation.
“There were a couple of times she giggled, she giggled and cried, and at times they were serious,” he recalls. “I’m sure the emotions were escalating and deflating with each moment.”
Lopey adds, “They seemed to comfort each other. She got emotional with crying and he attempted to comfort her, and then when we had to take her away, [it] seemed to be somewhat emotionally difficult for her.”
Investigators found a single sleeping pad where Cummins and Elizabeth were found, Lopey says. He echoes other law enforcement officials who have disputed the idea that Elizabeth might have gone willingly with Cummins.
“I don’t think a 15-year-old is in a position to consent with a 50-year-old,” he says. “I think she’s a victim, and no matter what her thought process was, she’s a victim and he’s a sexual predator.”
“Obviously she had opportunities to leave or escape,” he adds. “But he’s a domineering figure, and they appeared to be operating together in an effort to remain undetected.”
According to authorities, Elizabeth’s “emotions kind of fluctuated” while she spoke with them.
“At times she was emotionally crying, sometimes she was stoic, sometimes she would engage in conversation — but most of the time she was silent,” Lopey says.
He says that Elizabeth had been collecting rocks from the places where she and Cummins had allegedly traveled (prosecutors claim ) and that she asked authorities if she could keep them — for sentimental reasons.
Cummins: ‘I’m Glad This Is Over’
According to Lopey, authorities allegedly found two loaded handguns in the cabin.
He says another law enforcement official told him that , “I’m glad this is over.”
He adds that Cummins told him, “I just want to compliment you on the professionalism of your department.”
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According to Lopey, Cummins seemed calm after being found and allegedly said, “I don’t care about my stuff. My main concern is taking care of [Elizabeth].”
Elizabeth and Cummins were both wearing “casual clothing,” Lopey says. He confirms the account of — the man who set the pair up in the cabin and later reported them to authorities after becoming suspicious, and who said they were allegedly using the names “John” and “Joanna.”
According to Lopey, Cummins allegedly “elaborated on some techniques and procedures he was using … to avoid detection,” such as paying with cash instead of credit cards and using license plates from numerous states, including Alabama and Colorado.
Before the Cabin, Berkeley and a Commune
Lopey says Cummins and Elizabeth were in the Northern California area for approximately a week and that they had spent nights in other locations before coming to the cabin where they were finally found.
He says the pair spent an unknown amount of time at the Black Bear Ranch, which is about 15 miles from their Cecilville cabin. Lopey describes it as a commune dating back to the 1960s that attracts people from across the United States and even overseas.
Lopey says Cummins was allegedly interested in the ranch because “he was looking for refuge and association with that type of crowd, where he would be accepted and less visible, because that’s a very remote location.”
Ranch officials that Cummins and Elizabeth arrived there “having had no previous contact with Black Bear and stayed for a few days until they were asked to leave.”
They declined to specify what triggered the departure and said they would not give more interviews, but they noted Black Bear “does not condone the acts that Tad Cummins has been charged with nor does it condone these practices by anyone.”
Prior to coming to the commune, Cummins and Elizabeth allegedly spent time in Berkeley, California, about 340 miles south of Cecilville. But according to Lopey, they were surrounded there by “a counter-culture subset of residents and transient people,” and these people made Cummins uncomfortable.
“They scared him,” Lopey says. “Some of the things they were doing scared him and they decided to leave, and then they heard about the commune and thought, ‘Gee, why don’t we go there?’ ”
Cummins in Tennessee and California, including aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, as well as a federal charge, authorities have said.
He is being held in the Sacramento County Jail in California and will be arraigned on Monday afternoon. It is unclear if he has an attorney.