Family of Tenn. Teen Elizabeth Thomas Prepares for 'Highly Emotional' Trial of Ex-Teacher and Alleged Kidnapper
The teenager has made progress after allegedly being "groomed" by Cummins, her father tells PEOPLE
Cummins is charged with kidnapping and sex crimes in the alleged abduction of Elizabeth Thomas, then a freshman at Culleoka Unit School in Maury County. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s father says the family is still coming to terms with the “horrific experience” he allegedly put them and their loved one through.
“It’s a highly emotional issue,” Anthony Thomas tells PEOPLE. “[Going to court] is going to be very difficult for everybody.”
Both authorities and Elizabeth’s family allege Cummins “groomed” Elizabeth for months before the alleged abduction. Shortly after the pair was reported missing, becoming the subject of an AMBER Alert, Cummins was fired from his teaching job after having previously been suspended for allegedly kissing Elizabeth on school grounds.
It is unclear at this time whether Elizabeth will testify, but the family plans on attending the trial to show their support for her.
“We’ve spoken many times as a family,” Anthony says. “[Going to court] is just something we’re going to have to go through.”
When she returned home after being missing for more than a month, Elizabeth was taken to an undisclosed location to work with psychologists and counselors. While she was not physically harmed, she had allegedly undergone a series of traumatic events, authorities said.
Thomas would not disclose how Elizabeth is currently doing but he said that with the family’s support and help of counselors, she is making progress.
“We are doing fine,” Thomas says. “It’s just a process you have to go through. [We’re] being very supportive.”
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On April 20, 38 days after she went missing, Elizabeth was recovered safely in Northern California where investigators say she had been staying in a remote cabin with her accused abductor. Cummins was arrested and later extradited back to Tennessee, where he awaits trial.
If convicted, Cummins faces a minimum of 10 years to life in prison.
PEOPLE’s calls to Cummins’ public defender, Dumaka Shabazz, were not returned.
He also faces charges in California for alleged kidnapping and possession of stolen property.
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, Cummins’ former student at the Culleoka Unit School in Maury County, Tennessee.
The Thomas family attorney, Jason Whatley has said any suggestion that Elizabeth might have gone willingly is “amazingly absurd.”
“This is classic grooming and manipulation,” he adds. “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.”