"Finally she's in safe hands": Missing Tenn. teen's friend speaks out after rescue

Tenn. student rescue

COLUMBIA, Tenn. -- Childhood friend Caleb Banks described the moment he and 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas’ family found out she was found safe.

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Caleb Banks CBS News

“I start crying immediately. Finally, she’s in safe hands,” Banks said. “Everybody was hoping for the best, and the best is what we got.”

But it took nearly 40 days and a nationwide search for Thomas and her former science teacher, 50-year-old Tad Cummins. 

They were found in a remote Northern California cabin nearly 2,500 miles from their hometown, south of Nashville.

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Griffin Barry CBS News

Out of 1,500 tips, Griffin Barry, a local property manager, called in the one that led authorities to them.

“Someone showed me a picture and I was like, ‘that’s the guy,’” Barry said.

An affidavit alleges Cummins had been planning his time on the run with her: He had taken out a loan that previous week of approximately $4,500, filled a prescription for Cialis, a drug used for erectile dysfunction, and booked hotel reservations out of state.

Tenn. teacher found with teen in remote Calif. cabin arrested

For weeks, people in Thomas’s hometown put up flyers and held vigils.

“The efforts, I believe, of getting everybody together, passing out thousands of ribbons … I feel that really helped reach all the way to California,” Banks said.

Barry not only gave police the right tip, he says he helped lure Cummins out of the cabin so police could arrest him.

The girl’s family says she is being evaluated and treated for emotional trauma.