A US federal judge on Friday ordered that a Tennessee schoolteacher, Tad Cummins, who allegedly kidnapped a 15-year-old student, be held in custody until trial, saying he is a flight risk and a danger to the community.
This directive came after an FBI agent testified that the 50-year-old teacher told authorities he had sex with the girl most nights during the 38 days he was on the run with her.
FBI Agent Utley Noble said during testimony at a detention hearing in a federal court in Nashville that the married teacher, who is a father and grandfather, admitted sexual relationship with the teenager began the first night after they disappeared on March 13.
Federal prosecutors had argued that Cummins was a flight risk and a danger because he took advantage of a vulnerable girl and traveled with her across the country to have sex; U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Holmes agreed.
She said, "Here the evidence of danger is substantial".
Holmes said Cummins had abused his position of authority as a teacher and noted all the ways he tried to dodge the police. In addition to that, testimony showed that Cummins disabled his GPS on his vehicle, switched out his license plates, and he and the girl had to throw their cellphones in the Tennessee River near Decatur, Alabama, to evade tracking.
The FBI agent testified they decided to call themselves John and Joanne Castro and tell people that they were married, and he was 40 and she 24. In the days before he left with the girl, Noble said, Cummins had actually searched teen marriage and age of consent on the internet.
Testimony at the detention and preliminary hearing showed that Cummins spent $1,500 on a two-seat kayak, and he and the girl used it to try to get to Mexico. Noble said they attempted to kayak from San Diego to Mexico, but the waters were too dangerous. They decided it was too risky going into Mexico on foot. Cummins used the name Castro because it was a Hispanic name and he thought they would be better off portraying themselves as having that heritage if they were going south of the border.
The 15-year-old girl had been a victim of bullying at school, as well as physical and verbal abuse at home and she was afraid for her safety at both home and school, Noble testified. The girl regarded Cummins as a mentor she could turn to.
Cummins lawyer asked the FBI agent if there was any evidence that the girl was held against her will at any time on the trip from Columbia, Tennessee, to California; the agent replied that there was no evidence.
Tad Cummins is facing a federal charge of crossing state lines to have sex with a minor and faces a minimum sentence of 10 years and up to life in prison upon conviction. He also faces state charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor. He is under arrest.
The girl was found safe in a remote area of Northern California last month following a police tip-off.
No trial date has been set yet.