Inside Missing Tennessee Teen's 'Tearful' Reunion with Her Family After Alleged Abduction
Elizabeth Thomas was reunited with her family on Friday, more than a month after allegedly being abducted by teacher Tad Cummins
It’s been three days since missing 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas was reunited with her family in Tennessee, after allegedly spending more than a month with her accused kidnapper and former high school teacher, Tad Cummins.
Although Elizabeth is safe, her older brother says her ordeal is far from over.
“It makes me relieved that she’s not physically broken,” James Thomas, one of Elizabeth’s nine siblings, tells PEOPLE. “But at the same time it makes me worried about … how far did he [Cummins] sink his teeth into her mentally?”
The teen was last seen at a local restaurant that March morning in Maury County, Tennessee. Elizabeth and Cummins were discovered last week in a remote cabin near Cecilville, California, after a tipster saw the pair and contacted authorities, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Josh Devine told PEOPLE.
“It was exciting,” James, 27, says of reuniting with his sister. “We hadn’t seen her in well over a month. It was just amazing.”
He tells PEOPLE that much of his immediate family was there to welcome Elizabeth home. (Some relatives’ “bosses would let them just [jump] shift and run” to be there, he says.)
One of the first things James told his sister was “that I loved her and I missed her,” he says.
Elizabeth’s big sister Sarah was there too, “tearful” and “smiling,” according to James.
“When you first saw her, you couldn’t believe it was her,” he says. “I mean, I didn’t believe it was her. Part of me was still like, ‘They’re playing a joke on us’ or something, until that first moment you hugged her. And then you were like, ‘It’s her, we actually have her back.’ ”
In the immediate aftermath of Elizabeth being found, one of her sisters, Kat Bozeman, told PEOPLE the family was “absolutely thrilled and blessed to have her safe and on her way home.”
James declined to say where Friday’s reunion took place or to reveal certain other details, out of concern for Elizabeth’s privacy as she recovers.
“Whenever I was talking to her, I didn’t ask her questions about it,” he explains. “I just wanted to have a normal conversation, because I felt what was best for her right now is just … let’s avoid the scary stuff. I’m not going to pry, I’m not going to ask her anything that’s going to cause her more stress.”
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Elizabeth and Cummins — who taught her health sciences at a Maury County high school before being fired after disappearing in March — were the subject of an ongoing AMBER Alert, and investigators have said they were possibly living “off the grid.”
“She was taken from her family by a 50-year-old man, whether she was coerced or not and everything is … well, I believe the coercion,” James tells PEOPLE. “I don’t believe it was her idea. It was more him putting ideas [in her head].”
“The easiest way to manipulate somebody is to make it their choice, make them come up with the plans,” he continues. “You make them [say], ‘Hey, let’s do this.’ You just kind of lure them into doing that. If it’s their plan, they’re more likely behind it than if you went, ‘Hey, let’s do this.’ ”
Elizabeth’s father, Anthony Thomas, told ABC News that her mood has fluctuated since she was found.
“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 roller coaster for her.”RELATED VIDEO: Sister of Missing Tennessee Teen Reacts as She’s Found Safely
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, the family’s lawyer said Friday that Elizabeth was “comfortable and resting.” The attorney added that she was 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,” the statement read.
Cummins was arrested last week and faces multiple charges in Tennessee and California, including aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, as well as a federal charge, authorities have said.
He is being held in the Sacramento County Jail in California and will be arraigned on Monday afternoon. It is unclear if he has an attorney.
“The search is over, but now there’s the trial,” James tells PEOPLE. “It’s far from over. I mean, the trial process could probably take years ’cause it’s a multi-state issue now.”
Of Cummins, he says, “I want to throw the book at him myself.”
James adds, “I think it’s best if I don’t see him. … I don’t quite know what I’d do.”
• With reporting by CHRISTINE PELISEK