US & Canada

Tennessee fugitive teacher was seen kissing abducted girl

Amber alert Image copyright TBI
Image caption Authorities fear the high school freshman is in danger

A Tennessee high school teacher accused of abducting a 15-year-old student was seen kissing the girl two months before they went missing, it has emerged.

Another student reported the alleged clinch between 50-year-old Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas, but he was allowed to continue working.

There have been more than 650 reported sightings of the girl since she and the teacher vanished on 13 March.

Mr Cummins is believed to be travelling with two handguns.

He is wanted on charges of sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping.

Image copyright TBI
Image caption Mr Cummins is believed to be armed with two pistols

The family is furious that Mr Cummins was not suspended after a middle school student reported the alleged kiss in January.

Mr Cummins was allowed to continue teaching forensics at the high school in the town of Culleoka, 56 miles (90km) south of Nashville.

He was suspended in February for flouting the principal's order to keep his distance from Ms Thomas.

Authorities say that before disappearing Mr Cummins had carried out online research on "teen marriage".

He also purchased hair dye, took out a $4,500 (£3,600) personal loan, and researched if his Nissan Rogue vehicle could be tracked, officials say.

Image copyright TBI
Image caption State police issued this photo of Cummins and the missing teen at school

The Maury County School District officially fired Mr Cummins last week after the first missing-person alert was issued.

The missing girl's father has appealed for his daughter's safe return in an interview with Nashville news station WZTV.

Anthony Thomas, a father of 10, said: "Izzy, please come home, get away from him. Come home."

Mr Thomas said the teacher had told his daughter that he had once been in the FBI and CIA.

"I tried to convince her that you don't go from jobs like that to teaching in a rural school," Mr Thomas told WBIR-TV.

Both Mr Cummins and Ms Thomas denied to Culleoka Unit School officials that there had been any physical contact.

But the teacher acknowledged that the girl is "a really good friend and she does leave her other classes to come see him when she needs someone to calm her down", according to school records dated 30 January.

The girl's family were never informed of the alleged kiss, said Thomas family lawyer Jason Whatley.

Agents for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) "believe Cummins could have Thomas hidden from view of the general public or far away from Tennessee".

But they add that due to the lack of confirmed sightings, "the individuals could be anywhere".

One week after the disappearance, TBI spokesman Josh Devine took to local television to deliver a message to the teenager.

"Our message to her tonight: you are a victim," Mr Devine said.

"You're 15 years old. He's 50. We are going to do everything we can to bring you home."

Two nationwide alerts, known as Amber Alerts, have been issued since she was first reported missing.

People living in remote or rural areas have been asked to check their property for any sign of tampering or suspicious vehicles.