Tornado Watch issued June 23 at 3:16PM CDT expiring June 23 at 8:00PM CDT in effect for: Bedford, Cannon, Clay, Coffee, Cumberland, DeKalb, Fentress, Grundy, Jackson, Macon, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Smith, Van Buren, Warren, White
COLUMBIA, Tenn. - While the search for 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas remained active and ongoing, family and friends of the missing Maury County teenager held a prayer vigil to plead for her safe return.
TBI officials said her former high school teacher, identified as 50-year-old Tad Cummins, kidnapped her earlier in the week sparking an AMBER ALERT. The case has now turned into a nationwide search.
Cummins has been accused of "abusing his role as a teacher to groom [the] vulnerable young girl" to lure and potentially sexually exploit her.
"She was the one who completed the family and made everything better. We all love you and want to see you again," Thomas' sister tearfully said to a large crowd at Riverwalk Park in Columbia on Saturday.
Those who attended the vigil lit candles and broke into smaller groups to pray. Law enforcement, close family friends, and even her father took time to plead for Cummins to surrender.
"He stole my daughter from me," Anthony Thomas, Elizabeth's father, said. "He didn't just steal from me, he stole from the Maury County community."
"Bring her back or allow her to call and let us know she is okay," Paige Griffith, a family friend, said. "You helping to get her back will help you in the long run."
About 50 people showed up for the vigil, including Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland who said the department briefly pulled away from the investigation to show support for the family.
"It's two families that are devastated by this. I ask this community to remember them in our prayers and respect both sides. This is one poor choice from one individual, and it can all end. I just ask him [Cummins] to come home and work through all of this," Sheriff Rowland said.
Thomas was dropped off by a friend at the local Shoney's on Monday and was later reported missing by her parents.
Cummins taught at Culleoka Unit School where Thomas goes to school but was terminated on Tuesday. TBI said a troubling pattern of behavior indicated that Cummins planned the alleged abduction and feared they could be anywhere in the country.
Authorities said Thomas could be in imminent danger. Cummins was said to be armed and dangerous.
Cummins has been facing charges of sexual contact with a minor and kidnapping. He has been added to the TBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list.
Officials with the TBI confirmed they’ve received around 250 tips from 24 states; however, with no credible sightings and the length of time Thomas has been missing, authorities said the two could be anywhere.
Anyone with information has been urged to contact 1-800-TBI-FIND (1-800-824-3463).