The lawyer for Elizabeth Thomas says the Tennessee teen is “comfortable and resting” in a safe location with family and friends after returning today from her alleged abduction, according to a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
“She is being evaluated and treated by mental health experts specializing in trauma. There is no doubt she has suffered severe emotional trauma and that her process of recovery is only just beginning,” reads the statement from attorney S. Jason Whatley.
They were found early Thursday morning after a tipster reported they were living in a remote cabin in Northern California. Authorities had said they had been living there for about a week-and-a-half.
Cummins has been arrested and faces multiple charges in Tennessee and California, as well as federal charges, authorities have said.
Whatley’s statement continues, “The family is extremely grateful for the thoughts and prayers of the nation and asks sincerely for those continued prayers as Elizabeth becomes able to process the last 39 days. The family asks for privacy as this journey begins.”
During the pair’s disappearance, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation circulated a split-screen photo of Elizabeth and Cummins. According to Whatley’s statement, the photo makes Elizabeth look much older than she does in person.
“Elizabeth is a little child. She could easily pass for 12,” the statement reads. “The primary photo used and reprinted so many times by law enforcement, the media, and even our office, is inaccurate.
“She is a little girl in every sense of the word. This was the abduction of an impressionable little child.”
Teacher Faces State and Federal Charges
Authorities allege Cummins “groomed” Elizabeth for months. Cummins was suspended from his job after he was allegedly caught kissing Elizabeth on school grounds, and he was fired after he and Elizabeth went missing. The two had also allegedly exchanged emails officials described as “romantic” in nature.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Cummins remains in the custody of the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department without bond while he awaits extradition to Tennessee to face charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.
Cummins will be arraigned in California on Friday.
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Prior to his capture, Tennessee authorities issued a warrant for Cummins’ arrest on charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor — the latter charge stemming from the alleged January kissing incident.
He also faces charges in California for alleged possession of stolen property and kidnapping, according to ABC News.
The U.S. State Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee filed a federal charge of transportation of a minor across state lines with intent of having criminal sexual intercourse against Cummins, according to Jack Smith, Acting United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. The charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Statement from School District
The Maury County Public Schools released a statement, obtained by PEOPLE, reading, “The news of Elizabeth Thomas’ safe return is wonderful news for our community, and now, we can begin healing as a community, school district and as families touched by the AMBER Alert. Thanks go to all who have kept the message of finding Elizabeth Thomas and working on her safe return as top-of-mind throughout the nation.
“The efforts of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Maury County Sheriff’s office, nationwide law enforcement community and media outlets promoting awareness of this case have brought us to this safe conclusion, and Maury County Public Schools wants to thank these many professionals for the good news today. We continue our efforts here with the policy-review task force whose members are focused on developing consistent procedures to assist each school when faced with allegations and investigations.
“Again, Maury County Public Schools is grateful to everyone who worked tirelessly to bring Elizabeth Thomas home safely.”