The sister of the former Tennessee teacher accused of kidnapping his teen student says her brother told her he did so because the teen wanted to run away, and he didn’t want her to go alone.
Tad Cummins, 50, was captured last week after allegedly spending more than five weeks on the run with 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas, his student at the Culleoka Unit School in Maury County, Tennessee. But Cummins’ sister says that according to Cummins, the idea to run away was initially Elizabeth’s.
“I asked him why, why would he do this and the answer he gave me is that she wanted to run away and she wanted to leave,” Daphne Quinn told NBC News in an interview that aired Monday on the Today show. “And he didn’t want her to go alone, and so he went with her so that he could know that she was safe.”
Quinn told NBC that she spoke with her brother three times over the weekend, and noted that he was “repentant” about his actions.
“He’s done this horrible thing that he has to pay for, but he’s still my brother and I love him,” she said.
Elizabeth’s sister, Sarah, previously told PEOPLE that her sister was at a vulnerable point coming into the 2016-2017 school year because she had been bullied the year before. And an attorney for the family told PEOPLE that Cummins “groomed” Elizabeth before they both vanished.
Cummins has been arrested and faces multiple charges in Tennessee and California, as well as federal charges, authorities have said. He is being held in the Sacramento County Jail and is expected to be arraigned on Monday in Sacramento, California, according to NBC.
“I think he would like to get his family back but I think it just hasn’t hit him yet that that’s not gonna happen,” Quinn said. “He’s just gonna have to learn a new normal. He’s got a very long, tedious road ahead of him in a place he’s never been and he’s just gonna have to deal with it.”
Inside The Cabin Where Tad Cummins Was Arrested
Elizabeth was reunited with her family over the weekend, and her father, Anthony, told ABC News that her mood fluctuates.
“Sometimes she’ll be happy and laughing and back to the same old girl. And then she’ll be sometimes just in a fetal position crying,” he said, noting that Elizabeth had appeared to have lost some weight. “It’s been a rollercoaster for her.”
Her family’s lawyer said in a statement that she is “comfortable and resting” and is being evaluated and treated by mental health experts specializing in trauma, according to a statement obtained by PEOPLE from her family lawyer.
“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.
Whatley previously shot down the notion that Thomas could have gone “willingly” with Cummins, telling PEOPLE, “This is a 15-year-old girl — and if they are together, she has been groomed by a 50-year-old authority figure, so how could we even define ‘willingly’?”