May 17, 2017 11:19 AM

Elizabeth Thomas, the Tennessee teen allegedly abducted by her former teacher before being recovered weeks later in Northern California, turns 16 years old today, PEOPLE confirms.

Elizabeth was returned to her family on April 21 after she was found staying in a remote cabin with her accused abductor, Tad Cummins, a former health sciences teacher at her high school in Maury County, Tennessee. The pair had been missing since March 13.

Elizabeth is currently undergoing counseling and will celebrate her birthday with her family, her brother James Thomas tells PEOPLE. The quiet celebration will be held privately in an undisclosed location and attended by close family.

“I’m happy we get to see her, that she is with us for her birthday,” James Thomas says. “We’re very excited that we were able to get her back in time for her birthday.”

As Elizabeth continues to recover from the 38-day ordeal, her family is making it clear they are there for her.

“[She] needs love over anything else. Love is what’s going to heal her,” Elizabeth’s older sister, Kat Bozeman, previously told PEOPLE. “We’re going to show her we love her unconditionally.”

James Thomas says the few weeks Elizabeth has been working with counselors have been beneficial.

“We had the time to not only get her home but get her home early enough to start working with her,” he says. “So she’s looking forward to today.”

Elizabeth Thomas
Courtesy Thomas Family

Tennessee Bureau of Investigations

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James Thomas says he doesn’t plan on getting his sister anything big for her birthday. Her father, Anthony Thomas, previously told PEOPLE he hopes to get Elizabeth her favorite Oreo ice cream cake.

“Sixteen is usually when kids jump up and decide they’re adults. They want to drive and she has expressed she wants her drivers license but I don’t think she’s getting it right now,” James Thomas says. “That’s a discussion between her and her father.”

Teacher Allegedly Tried to Paddle Kayak to Mexico

Meanwhile, Cummins faces federal and state kidnapping and sex crime charges. He has been charged in both Tennessee and California.

On Friday, testimony given in federal court revealed that during their disappearance, Cummins allegedly tried to paddle to Mexico from California in a kayak he purchased to flee the country with Elizabeth.

Days after Elizabeth and Cummins disappeared, the father-of-two was fired from his job. Authorities allege Cummins “groomed” the girl in his position as her instructor and that he kissed her on the grounds of Culleoka Unit School.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

Cummins maintains his innocence. Last week, his request to be released prior to trial was denied by a magistrate judge, PEOPLE confirms.

“Mr. Cummins never employed violence, force, or threats. At no time was the alleged victim held at gun point, hit, or forcibly held,” court documents filed on Cummins’ behalf and obtained by PEOPLE state. “In fact, it appears that she desired to leave a broken home, and a school where she was a bullied outsider.”

Cummins’ public defender in California, Benjamin Galloway, issued a statement defending his client, claiming he has “no history of violence and no criminal history whatsoever,” and that he didn’t coerce, force or threaten Elizabeth.

The Thomas family attorney, Jason Whatley has told PEOPLE any suggestion that Elizabeth might have gone willingly is “amazingly absurd.”

“This is classic grooming and manipulation,” Whatley added. “And I predict this case will be studied years in the future about how authority figures like Tad Cummins can mess up young children who believe their lies and are manipulated into doing things they would never do.”

If convicted, Cummins faces a minimum of 10 years to life in prison. Earlier this week, Cummins asked for a public defender. His attorney could not be reached for comment.

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