Manhunt

Tennessee Amber Alert: Ex-student describes similar 'friendship' with wanted teacher

Bryan Llenas shares latest details on the search for the teen and her former teacher

 

A former student of a Tennessee teacher accused of kidnapping another student and sparking an ongoing Amber Alert says she's now haunted by similar “friendship” behavior she experienced from him years ago -- and a love song he sang for her.

Destany Parish, now 19, told People magazine that Tad Cummins was her teacher at Culleoka Unit School in 2011. She said she trusted him at the time amid ongoing difficulties at home when her parents divorced and she was left living with her grandparents.

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“I definitely think, on his end, it was more than a friendship – it’s hard not to think that now,” she said. “[With Cummins], I had somebody I could trust, and I couldn’t talk to my parents. I don’t show emotions with family – I shut them out emotionally. [My mother’ was just happy I had somebody I could trust and I could talk to about the divorce.”

She added: “Whenever we were alone he would talk to me about how I was doing or try to give me advice on what I was going through.”

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Parrish said they would sit in his classroom and talk “about everything and anything” and she didn’t think anything wrong of the friendship until she heard Cummins allegedly abducted 15-year-old student Elizabeth Thomas last month.

“He made me feel safe and he tried to do that with all of his students, so I never saw it as too weird,” she said.

After hearing of Thomas’ disappearance with her former teacher, Parrish said she remembered a love song Cummins performed for her in the schools’ music room. Up until three weeks ago, she had not given much thought to the lyrics, which included this line: “I could swim for a thousand miles in the oceans inside your eyes and never reach the side.”

“I definitely didn’t focus on the lyrics at the time. I kind of thought about it [later] but I didn’t think about anything bad, I didn’t process them because it was Tad, the person I trusted.”

An arrest warrant has been issued for Cummins on charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual conduct with a minor. The claims stem from an incident in which the teacher allegedly kissed Thomas on Jan. 23, after which he was suspended from his job.

He was fired after he and Thomas vanished. An Amber Alert was issued soon after.

It was not only in the classroom that Parrish and Cummins spent time together. She sometimes attended church on Sundays with him and his wife, Jill, and would get lunch with them.

“He was the one that everybody trusted,” Parrish said. “[Up until recently] I was in a lot of denial.”

Parrish’s story is eerily similar to Thomas’, who also spent time with Cummins in and out of school.

Thomas’ family previously told People magazine they believed Cummins used his time in school to “groom” the teenager by presenting himself as a confidant to students.

“He built up a system where she was dependent on him,” Thomas’ father Anthony has said, adding that the teacher gave “her money, bought a microwave so she would heat food up in his room [and] try to get her out of trouble.”

Last week, Tennessee officials released surveillance images obtained from a Walmart in Oklahoma City, Okla., showing Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas purchasing food with cash.

In the statement, officials said the images captured on March 15 show that both Cummins and Thomas appeared to have dyed their hair.

Officials have said the pair could potentially be in Mexico or further south. It’s unclear whether Thomas went with Cummins willingly.