REDDING, Calif. — The electricity-free Siskiyou County commune where 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas stayed with alleged captor Tad Cummins may join the digital age so that it doesn’t unknowingly harbor a fugitive again.

Meanwhile, co-owner Karuna Greenberg also shed more light Friday on the duo’s stay at Black Bear Ranch. Thomas and Cummins were asked to leave because, among other things, Greenberg said they didn’t seem interested in the “intentional community” tenets of socializing and helping with chores.

Thomas, 15, and Cummins, 50, stayed at Black Bear Ranch for over a week until that conversation happened April 17, Greenberg said. Cummins — Thomas’ former teacher — had been wanted since March, when he left with her from their Tennessee hometown.

Greenberg said the duo gave fake names and ages, and the commune doesn’t have internet access or newspaper delivery. The frightening revelation that it had been housing a fugitive and a teenage victim means changes may be coming at the ranch, she said.

“We might decide to install Internet up there just so that there’s a little bit more ability to interact with folks up there,” Greenberg said Friday.

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Greenberg said other policy changes at the ranch are on the table as well, including a temporary freeze on hosting any unexpected visitors.

“People do show up (unexpectedly), and that’s not always a bad thing. But we’re definitely just considering that right now, in light of this kind of strange circumstance that we became a bystander in,” she said. “We want to make sure that sort of thing doesn’t happen again.”

Greenberg, who doesn’t live at the property but did meet Thomas and Cummins while visiting, said the duo seemed “a bit uncomfortable” with the Black Bear Ranch lifestyle, including social norms there that encourage residents to help out with chores and foster a sense of community with each other.

 

“There weren’t any indications to people that something was awry about them, but simply that they seemed a little bit uncomfortable with just the kind of overall sense of the community,” Greenberg said. “I think also they weren’t particularly into helping and interacting with other people there, wanting to help with the gardens and help make food, that sort of thing. They didn’t seem like they were super interactive on that level.”

While there are Christians among the half-dozen residents at the commune near Cecilville, Goldberg said Thomas and Cummins were “very clear” about their own Christian faith, which may have led to clashes with some. Black Bear doesn’t have a religious denomination, but some of its rites are decidedly bohemian, including annual summer solstice celebrations.

“It definitely seemed like — for them, not for the residents as much — that that might be a barrier to them,” Greenberg said. “They were definitely clear that they were very Christian.”

While Thomas and Cummins seemed genuinely interested in commune life, Greenberg said in retrospect, residents wonder whether Cummins just wanted a remote place to hide.

Cummins was arrested three days after leaving the commune, when 29-year-old Griffin Barry let him stay on the Cecilville property where he lives, but found out who Cummins really was and called 911.

Greenberg said the ending to Thomas’ story shows that remote, rural communities aren’t necessarily the hideouts criminals want them to be.

“I think people just think you can go to rural areas and disappear, and that’s really not the case,” she said. “I think that this really shows that you stand out when you’re in a really rural area, and people actually pay attention to people coming in who are unknown.”