“I don’t regret it, nor do I say it was the right thing to do,” Elizabeth, now 16, told the Columbia Daily Herald in an impromptu interview at a fast food restaurant. “It was an experience I’ll have to live with the rest of my life.”
The Columbia teen was approached by an editor of the Herald while getting food with two children she was babysitting. She was in her pajamas at the time.
“There’s been so much speculation about me,” she told the paper. “There are people saying, ‘She’s not talking for this reason. She’s not talking for that reason.’ It’s not that. It’s just the publicity is affecting people. Everyone just needs to calm down. I am a human being. I can answer things fairly. But people are asking things that are too personal. People are talking to me like they know me. They didn’t talk to me before. They didn’t try to know me before. They have only liked me since I came back.”
Elizabeth was the subject of national news when an AMBER Alert was issued in March after she was reported missing, and was believed to be with her health sciences teacher: 51-year-old Tad Cummins, a married father-of-two. The pair were found 38-days later living in a shed in Northern California, and Cummins was arrested.
Cummins is currently behind bars, charged with kidnapping and sex crimes in the alleged abduction of his former student, then a freshman at Culleoka Unit School in Maury County.
Now, Elizabeth, who returned to Columbia in July following months of therapy in another location, is being homeschooled with the help of her older brother, her family tells PEOPLE.
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When asked what her life is like now, Elizabeth told the Herald, “I can’t really complain right now. I babysit kids, and I work in Columbia. I am studying at home.”
At the time of her alleged abduction, Elizabeth had been living with her father, but now she says she is living with her brother.
“It’s just safer to be back with my brother instead of in the middle of everything,” Elizabeth said about living with her father.
According to the interview, Elizabeth wants to go to Middle Tennessee State University to become a medical examiner.
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Both authorities and Elizabeth’s family allege Cummins “groomed” Elizabeth for months before the alleged abduction. Shortly after the pair was reported missing, Cummins was fired from his teaching job after having previously been suspended for allegedly kissing Elizabeth on school grounds.
At the time of her disappearance, rumors circulated about the alleged relationship between Elizabeth and Cummins, her sister previously told PEOPLE. The rumors led to Elizabeth being bullied — and authorities allege Cummins used Elizabeth’s feeling of isolation to prey on her.
However, Elizabeth told the Herald she was grateful for her community’s support since her return.
“[I’m] happy to be back and that people are so accepting,” she said.
Cummins — who also faces multiple charges in California and Tennessee — is set to appear in federal court in early 2018. His attorney could not be reached for comment.
He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
If convicted, Cummins faces a minimum of 10 years to life in prison. It is unclear whether Elizabeth plans to testify in court. The family’s attorney, Jason Whatley, could not be reached for comment.