Tennessee teacher accused of kidnapping girl arrested in California

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation releases new photo of Tad Cummins with Elizabeth Thomas at school in January, days before his alleged inappropriate contact with her.
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(CNN) -- After five weeks on the run, a Tennessee teacher who kidnapped and fled with his 15-year-old student has been arrested in California, authorities said Thursday.

The student, Elizabeth Thomas, was found safe in a commune in Cecilville, near the Oregon border, her sister Kat Thomas said.

"There aren't words in the English language to describe the level of relief and elation experienced by the Thomas family," said Jason Whatley, the family's attorney. "Now begins another hard chapter, but for now, we celebrate."

Tad Cummins, 50, fled with Elizabeth from their small town of Culleoka, Tennessee, on March 13. They disappeared a few weeks after a student reported seeing Cummins and Elizabeth kissing in a classroom.

A nationwide search

Authorities released surveillance video from March 15 that showed the pair at a Walmart in Oklahoma City. But for weeks, the trail went cold.

The break came when a vehicle belonging to Cummins was found in Siskiyou County, California, the county sheriff's office said. It was identified using its vehicle identification number.

Siskiyou County is more than 2,000 miles from Culleoka.

Cummins faces charges of sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said last month.

Cummins' estranged wife, Jill Cummins, was "very emotional" when she learned both were found safe, said her attorney, Michael Cox.

"She is excited that they were found and nobody was hurt," Cox said. "She has not spoken to Tad."

Jill Cummins had filed for divorce, saying she felt betrayed by her husband. She had no idea why her husband went to Northern California, her attorney said.

"This is not somewhere they had frequently visited," Cox said. "I'm not aware that they had ever been there."

Journalist Burt Staggs, CNN's Roxanne Garcia and HLN's Mike Galanos contributed to this report.

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