Teen who vanished for weeks with 50-year-old teacher speaks out about the ordeal


Elizabeth Thomas is 17 years old now. But last year, at the age of 15, the country became transfixed with her whereabouts and wellbeing when she abruptly vanished with Tad Cummins, a teacher she’d previously had for class in the Tennessee public school she attended. After more than a month on the run and with images of them on surveillance footage providing clues, police tracked them down in a rural cabin in northern California. Cummins was promptly arrested and charged with kidnapping.

In the months following the ordeal, Thomas spoke and said that she didn’t “regret” taking off with Cummins and that “everybody just needs to calm down.” Now, in a new interview with Eva Pilgrim of ABC News, Thomas is elaborating on the circumstances that led to her disappearance and setting the record straight about her relationship with Cummins and how she was betrayed by a man who should’ve had her best interests in mind.

“[People] think they know what happened,” Thomas said in the interview airing on 20/20. “They think that I’m a whore. They think that I like old men and that’s not the case.”

Thomas explained that her childhood at home was an unhappy one. She’d been homeschooled most of her life. Her father worked long hours and was rarely home during waking hours. Meanwhile, she said, her mother was bitterly abusive. Eventually, her mother, who has denied any wrongdoing, was removed from the home and charged with abuse and neglect. As a result, Thomas went to public school for the first time, enrolling in Culleoka Unit School where she met Cummins, a health teacher.

Her integration into public school was not smooth. Thomas said students bullied her and she ended up talking to Cummins about her troubles. At first, their interaction was normal and Thomas began spending time at Cummins’ home with his family. Cummins’ wife, Jill Cummins, has said she thought nothing was amiss and that she viewed the relationship developing between the two as something along the lines of what a father and daughter are like. Thomas even attended church with the Cummins family.

But it all changed when Cummins made a peculiar remark to her one day in the school cafeteria. “I was standing there with a few friends … and then they said, ‘Are you hungry?’” Thomas recalled. “And I went, ‘I don’t have a soul or if I did, I’d be hungry,’ or something like that. And then he came to me and he pointed at me and said, ‘My soul sees your soul.’ Kind of scary.”

Things escalated after that. “You look pretty nice naked,” he told her when the two were alone in his classroom. Thomas said being that she was homeschooled, she’d never had a boyfriend and implied that she’d never kissed a boy before. “He grabbed my face,” she recalled, and kissed her. She said the kiss was when she realized things were “going too far” between the two. But she was unable to stop the relationship from advancing and she was battling depression.

“Whenever I tried to seek mental help, he told me no,” Thomas said of Cummins who was becoming controlling. “I was feeling real low, and I was wanting to get on antidepressants and try to go to a therapist. And he told me no and not to do it ‘cause it’d change who I was.”

Law enforcement officials have said that Cummins specifically targeted Thomas because of the trauma she’d suffered and had groomed her for a sexual relationship.

“I was afraid to see him angry,” Thomas said. “He doesn’t take ‘no’ well.”

A student had seen the two kissing and reported it to school officials, but that only exacerbated the bullying from other students, Thomas said, and led to demands from Cummins that the two run away together as police and school administrators investigated.

“So he started calling my phone … sometimes he’d be threatening to kill himself or ending someone else’s life if I didn’t go,” Thomas said. “He said if he couldn’t have me, he’d kill himself. Any time he threatened himself, he’d threaten my family,” she recalled, adding, “He threatened to shoot himself, to use the guns. He had two of them.”

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