Ex-Teacher Allegedly Threatened Teen Student with 'Repercussions' Before He Kidnapped Her
Tad Cummins allegedly preyed on missing teen Elizabeth Thomas, "nudging and molding her until her will to resist was conflicted and ultimately broken"
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on April 7, 2017. On Thursday, Tennessee investigators announced Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas had been found safe in Northern California. Cummins was arrested.
The former Tennessee teacher accused of abducting his 15-year-old student was a “masterfully manipulating predator” who pressured the girl to go out with him by threatening her with “repercussions at school,” a court petition obtained by PEOPLE alleges.
The pair have not been seen since and are the subject of an ongoing AMBER Alert.
On Thursday, Thomas’ father, Anthony Thomas, filed a petition for perpetuation of testimony.
The filing allows his lawyer to take depositions of people who allegedly were privy to the teen’s relationship with her teacher but who have been hesitant “to fully cooperate in sharing information,” according to a family statement obtained by PEOPLE.
The petition details the family’s allegations that Cummins groomed Elizabeth before the abduction. It claims, “Cummins preyed upon the child for months on end, nudging and molding her until her will to resist was conflicted and ultimately broken.”
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
The petition alleges Cummins picked Elizabeth up from her home on more than one occasion to go out for a meal, “threatening her that if she did not go with him she would face repercussions at school.”
It alleges that Elizabeth told her siblings and friends that “she was scared of Cummins and that she felt ‘in over her head.’ ”
Elizabeth “had an inflated view of Cummins,” believing he was “a millionaire, a former Special Forces soldier, and the like,” according to the petition.
The petition also repeats the family’s allegation that Cummins would show up to the fast food restaurant where Elizabeth worked and that she would sometimes hide from him and ask co-workers to lie about her whereabouts.
“In short, Petitioner asserts that Cummins was stalking the child,” the documents allege.
On Jan. 23, Cummins was allegedly caught kissing Elizabeth on school grounds, after which he was suspended from his job. The petition alleges the teen was subsequently ridiculed at school and called a “whore.” It states that she began to feel guilty because Cummins was suspended from school and became afraid he might punish her for it.
“Cummins played upon this guilt, causing the child to feel compelled to help him by… going with him,” the family’s filing claims.
According to their petition, Cummins allegedly told Elizabeth that because of the alleged kissing incident, “Her future collegiate and work career was ruined, thus causing her to believe that her best option was to leave with him.”
The petition claims an improper degree of closeness between Elizabeth and Cummins, “all unknown to” the teen’s father: The documents allege the teacher would give the girl money and gifts, that other students reported seeing him rubbing her back and shoulders and that students saw her one morning sleeping on a hospital bed in his classroom.
The Thomas family’s statement says the investigation into Elizabeth’s disappearance has been frustrating.
“As time goes on, the family is growing more and more desperate to formally examine all witnesses who have information that might assist in finding and rescuing her,” they said.
Investigators Continue Search for Pair
A warrant has been issued for Cummins’ arrest on charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor — the latter charge stemming from the alleged January kiss.
Last week, Cummins’ wife of 31 years filed for divorce.
Officials have previously said the pair may have fled the country to Mexico. Cummins has described himself as a religious man who has worked with children in the past, according to his resume, which was obtained by PEOPLE.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation asks anyone who believes they spot Cummins or Elizabeth to not approach them and instead keep an eye on them while calling 911.
The teen was last seen wearing a flannel shirt and black leggings. She is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 120 lbs., with blonde hair and hazel eyes.
Cummins was seen driving a Silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee license plate 976ZPT, according to the TBI. He is 6 feet tall and weighs 200 lbs., with brown hair and eyes.
Anyone with information on Cummins or Elizabeth should call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.