Tad Cummins' former student discusses close friendship with teac - WSMV Channel 4

Tad Cummins' former student discusses close friendship with teacher

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Tad Cummins is believed to be armed. (Source: TBI) Tad Cummins is believed to be armed. (Source: TBI)
Destany Parrish is a former student of Tad Cummins and said she developed a close relationship with him. (WSMV) Destany Parrish is a former student of Tad Cummins and said she developed a close relationship with him. (WSMV)
COLUMBIA, TN (WSMV) -

Destany Parrish says when she was at Culleoka Unit School, her health sciences teacher Tad Cummins was not just an educator and a mentor, she also considered him a close friend.

"I know that I trusted him with everything that I had when I was in school," Parrish said.

Parrish’s parents were going through a divorce at the time, and for her, Cummins was always a listening ear.

It was 2011. Parrish was 15 at the time. She said Cummins kept in touch years after she graduated. She had planned to visit his classroom last October, but ended up running into him at a grocery store briefly last fall.

"Everybody loved Tad," said Parrish, who is now 20. "He put inspirational quotes on his board. He was still doing it when I went back and visited him some time last year. He was always just really friendly. I never thought for a second that it was anything else."

But there was at least one incident which now seems like a red flag. Cummins' classroom had become a popular lunchtime hangout spot for some students. Parrish said a large number of students would go to his class, which they considered a safe place to do whatever they wanted.

"He told us all one day that the office had gotten on to him and that we all had to go back to the lunch room because that's where we're supposed to be anyway," Parrish recalled. "Everybody left and I got my bag and got ready to leave, and he said the office hadn't said anything to him, he just didn't want that many kids in his room. It just ended up being he and I chilling in there. I would go there after school.”

Parrish said she would go to Cummins’ room after school and he would often take her to services at the Destiny Church in Columbia. Thomas would also attend Destiny Church with the family of Elizabeth Thomas.

Parrish maintains things never got inappropriate with Cummins.

Looking back, her mother said she feels anger and guilt that she wasn't there to see the signs.

"As a parent, it's terrifying because he could've started grooming with her," said Parrish's mother, Ronni Edwards. "If Destany was a different kind of child, it could've been her. I trusted him with my child, and looking back, why didn't I see it? Maybe it was because I wasn't here and didn't see the actual relationship between them. I wish I had because if maybe I had seen it, something would have been different and Elizabeth wouldn't be where she is now. She would be at home safe."

Now the thought of Cummins, the man now accused of researching teenage marriage and running away with a vulnerable 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas, comes as shock.

"I want to know why? I want to know what went through his head to make him think any of this was OK," Parrish said. "It's hard to think that he'd do something like this, but then as close as we were it's really hard to lose that with someone, but no matter what happens it's never I don't want the relationship back.”

The TBI said Wednesday afternoon that they have received more than 700 tips, but no credible leads or information about Cummins' and Thomas' possible whereabouts.

The last credible sighting of the two was on March 13, the day they disappeared.

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