Tennessee girl safe, teacher arrested near California cabin

Published: Thursday, April 20, 2017 @ 1:29 PM
Updated: Thursday, April 20, 2017 @ 1:27 PM


            FILE - In this undated file photo released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations shows Tad Cummins in Tennessee. Authorities said a 15-year-old Tennessee girl who disappeared with Cummins, who was her teacher, last month has been found safe in California and the teacher has been arrested. (Tennessee Bureau of Investigations via AP, File)

A 15-year-old Tennessee girl was rescued near a cabin in a remote part of northern California on Thursday, more than a month after her 50-year-old teacher kidnapped her and set off a nationwide manhunt, authorities said.

Health sciences teacher Tad Cummins surrendered to sheriff's deputies without incident in Cecilville, California, hours after they had set up surveillance on his vehicle in the area, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said. The girl was apparently healthy and unharmed, and authorities said their main concern was her emotional and mental state.

"We couldn't be happier to tell you she will soon be on her way back home to Tennessee," Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said.

Cummins faces state charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor as well as a federal charge of taking a minor across state lines to have sex. If convicted of the federal charge, he faces at least 10 years in prison, acting U.S. Attorney Jack Smith said.

Authorities declined to answer a question on whether the girl went willingly, saying it didn't matter.

"At the end of the day she's 15 years old. She's 15 years old; she's a young girl that's with a grown man that's 50 years old. He needs to be held accountable for kidnapping this girl," Gwyn said.

Authorities received a tip late Wednesday night that the pair may have taken up residence in the woods in Siskiyou County, perhaps for more than a week, bureau spokesman Josh DeVine said. The remote, mountainous area has limited cellphone service and the terrain is difficult to traverse. Snow was still on the ground in some places.

Authorities had earlier said the arrest happened at a commune but later clarified that it occurred in a very remote area and that they were still collecting evidence.

The pair's disappearance March 13 came after Cummins was investigated by the school system when another student reported seeing the then-married teacher kiss the girl at the Culleoka Unit School. Culleoka is a community about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Nashville near the Alabama state line.

"We're so happy that California police worked quickly and were able to find them and get her safe," one of the girl's sisters told The Tennessean.

"I believe the FBI are going to make sure she's healthy before she comes home," she said. "We'll make sure she'll get what therapy she needs and that she's safe, that she knows she's safe."

The Associated Press is not naming the girl or her family members because she is an alleged victim of a sex crime.

Court papers filed recently in the girl's disappearance said she was afraid of the teacher and thought she would face repercussions at school if she resisted him.

A lawyer for the girl's family has said the teacher was allowed to continue working at the school for two weeks after he was reported kissing the girl. Attorney Jason Whatley has said the school system must have not believed the student's report.

The school's investigative files provided to The Associated Press by the attorney show that both Cummins and the girl denied kissing. The teacher, however, acknowledged that the girl was "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 a school report dated Jan. 30.

The report recommended that the girl be taken out of Cummins' class and that he be reprimanded to uphold his professional responsibility. The report also recommended that the administration monitor Cummins' classroom to make sure students weren't there when they weren't supposed to be.

The teacher would later be reprimanded on Feb. 3 by school principal Penny Love after the girl was seen in Cummins' classroom for a little more than half an hour that day. In her letter, Love said the girl being in his classroom was a violation of the principal's order to him.

The school system didn't suspend Cummins until Feb. 6. He was fired about a month later — a day after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an Amber Alert about the teen.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said it worked tirelessly for the past five weeks, looking into more than 1,500 leads from all 50 states.

Two days after the girl disappeared, surveillance images from a Walmart in Oklahoma City showed Cummins and the girl purchasing food items in the store with cash. The images showed Cummins had altered his hair to appear darker and the girl's hair may have changed to red.

The teacher's wife of 31 years has filed for divorce. Court records show that Jill Cummins sued her then-missing husband on the grounds of irreconcilable differences and inappropriate marital conduct. The wife, who works for the Maury County school system, said she had not seen her husband since March 13. The couple has two children together.

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Kristin Bender in San Francisco contributed to this report.

10-year-old boy with autism arrested at school

Published: Sunday, April 23, 2017 @ 1:54 AM

Child arrested (stock photo)
jabejon/Getty Images

Luanne Haygood, the mother of a 10-year-old boy with autism, is angry that her son was arrested earlier this month at his Florida school for allegedly punching and kicking his teacher six months ago. Okeechobee County school resource officers put the child in handcuffs at Okeechobee Achievement Academy, but Haygood said the school district isn’t properly equipped to deal with autistic children.

“He has autism. He doesn’t know what’s going on,” she can be heard saying in the video that she recorded of her son’s arrest. “He’s scared to death. He’s 10 years old.”

>> Watch Haygood's video here (WARNING: Viewer discretion advised)

Haygood watched as her son was removed from his classroom for allegedly leaving a paraprofessional with scratches and other marks back in October. He was arrested on an outstanding warrant on allegations of felony battery on a school board authority.

“I was extremely angry. That I felt like this was a power play. I felt like this was a this is what you get. You can’t do anything about it. We’re going to arrest your son if he can’t abide by the rules,” Haygood told WFOR, adding that her son's disability is the reason behind his behavior. “To go and have him arrested on school grounds in front of other students, in front of personnel, during school hours – they could’ve come to my house at any time to tell me what was going on.”

>> Read more trending news

The boy reportedly spent one night in juvenile detention, according to the Washington Post. The child was then released on house arrest and is expected to appear in court next month.

Haygood said the incident would never have happened if the school had the proper services to address his disability.

“I want something done," she told WFOR. "I want other kids to not have to go through this.”

According to CNN, the school district released the following statement:

"It has been district procedure to invite students in to take the Florida Standards Assessment. The district would not invite someone to one of our campuses for the sole purpose to arrest.

"The district routinely assists students by providing services from our board certified behavioral analyst, licensed mental health counselors, school social workers, and psychologists. As a team, these individuals develop interventions, conduct assessments, and offer support both at school and in the home in order to assist students and families.

"The district is unable to provide specific information as to both current and past incidents regarding this or any other student due to educational laws and rules. It is our hope that we can continue to work with all families to help their students improve both behaviorally and academically."

– The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

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Rare, 400-pound crocodile gets surgery at Florida zoo

Published: Saturday, April 22, 2017 @ 6:43 PM

A crocodile. (Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

A 13-year-old Orinoco crocodile was taken into surgery at the Zoo Hospital in Miami on Friday to treat an infected wound.

A team of zoo staff veterinarians operated on the croc’s left wrist when “something, probably another cranky crocodile, took a bite out of it,” the Miami Herald reports.

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Orinoco crocodiles are a rare, endangered species that reside in fresh-water areas of the Orinoco River in Colombia and Venezuela, the zoo told the Herald. They can grow up to 15 feet long.

The zoo’s 10-foot reptile resides at the “Amazon and Beyond” exhibit, according to the Herald. Veterinarians did routine screenings before operating on the crocodile, which included X-rays and blood tests.

The nearly 400-pound crocodile is currently recovering at the hospital and will remain there for a few days until the wound heals. 

Hernandez family thankful for condolences, asks for privacy at funeral

Published: Saturday, April 22, 2017 @ 5:36 PM

Aaron Hernandez's fiancee Shayanna Jenkins. (Photo: WFXT)

The body of former football star and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez will be moved to a funeral home in Connecticut this weekend, just days after he apparently took his own life in jail. 

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His family sent a statement Saturday, thanking the public for offering condolences and complying with the family’s request for privacy:

"The family of Aaron Hernandez wishes to thank all of you for the thoughtful expressions of condolences. We wish to say goodbye to Aaron in a private ceremony and thank everyone in advance for affording us a measure of privacy during this difficult time."

The family wishes to remain private during the funeral, to which the media will not be allowed.

Hernandez’s body was taken from Massachusetts to the O’Brien Funeral Home in Bristol, Connecticut.

Earth Day 2017 prompts global #MarchForScience movement

Published: Saturday, April 22, 2017 @ 8:44 AM

Earth Day 2017 will focus on the importance of science.

The March for Science movement is holding events around the globe to emphasize how important science is to mankind.

According to the March for Science’s Twitter profile, the organization “champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity.”

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The Trump administration’s proposed cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency and executive orders targeting environmental regulations has sparked the March for Science movement into action.

Marches are taking place at major cities around the world, including Washington, D.C.