The California groundskeeper who helped authorities nab a Tennessee teacher on the run with his 15-year-old student first met the pair nearly a week ago and spent a full day working alongside the wanted man before recognizing his picture on an Amber Alert flyer.
“I was like, that’s the guy! So we ended up calling police and what not,” said Griffin Barry, the caretaker of an unfinished cabin in Cecilville where Tad Cummins and his 15-year-old student, Elizabeth Thomas, spent the final days of their six-week stint dodging authorities.
The 29-year-old Nashville native in an interview with KRCR said Cummins and Thomas first showed up about a week ago.
The former teacher at Culleoka Unit School introduced Thomas as his 22-year-old wife, Joanna, and told Barry he was a 44-year-old named John from Colorado. Cummins explained they were heading for Black Bear Ranch, a commune founded in 1968 by people who wanted to “get back to the land and out of the city,” WKRN reported.
“He said he had a house fire and he got fired from his job, and he had lost his last 10 dollars,” Barry told the news station. “So I gave him 40 bucks and put gas in his tank.”
The pair reportedly spent two days in the commune located in Siskiyou County but were asked to leave — ultimately prompting their return to the small cabin Tuesday evening.
“He came back and I was like, I can help you out, you know, I got a little bit of work,” Barry explained, noting he was completely unaware at the time the duo had been on the run since March 13.
“In my head I’m thinking he had a house fire and lost everything,” he told KRCR. “I came out here on a prayer and people helped me out and got me on my feet and hopefully I can pass it on.”
Barry worked alongside Cummins, moving rocks, but had little interaction with Thomas.
“She spoke very few words and he would try and like, talk for her a lot,” he said. “He was like clearly keeping her separate.”
The owner of the 12 by 12-foot wood cabin, Michael O’Hare, told WBIR it was his neighbor who first started spotting all of the red flags — including the Nissan Rogue without license plates — cropping up around the visiting pair. O’Hare said his neighbor immediately alerted the caretaker and they phoned the sheriff’s office.
“They were going to try and contain him but thought, ‘Naw, he’s supposed to be armed and dangerous,’” O’Hare explained.
Law enforcement arrived at the property around 4 a.m. on Thursday, set up a perimeter and then arrested Cummins as he made his way out of the cabin to help Barry for another day of work.
O’Hare is still shocked the weeks-long manhunt for the missing pair ended at his small cabin.
“When my neighbor called and told me, I thought ‘Oh my God, no we are too far away,” he said. “The area is so remote, a lot of people come out here to hide. It’s like a one-horse wilderness town. There’s no cellphone service for about 30 miles outside the town.”