March 29, 2018 10:15 PM

Tad Cummins, a former high school teacher in Tennessee, has decided to plead guilty to kidnapping a then-15-year-old student for 38 days and taking her across the country last year, PEOPLE confirms.

Cummins, 51, is charged with kidnapping and sex crimes in the abduction of Elizabeth Thomas, who was a freshman at Culleoka Unit School in Maury County when she vanished with Cummins in March 2017.

He was fired from the school, where he taught health science, after being named a suspect in the case.

Cummins was scheduled to appear in court later this year after pleading not guilty in May to federal charges. However, on Thursday, his attorney announced his intentions to reverse his earlier plea, citing “personal reflection,” the Tennessean reports.

“The Thomas family is very relieved that Tad Cummins decided to do the right thing by pleading guilty.  We see this as one more step toward justice for Mary Catherine Elizabeth Thomas,” Jason Whatley, the Thomas family’s attorney, said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.


Elizabeth Thomas
Courtesy Thomas Family

Thomas was reported missing on March 13, 2017. Cummins, one of her teachers, disappeared the same day. The pair was the subject of an AMBER Alert, and investigators had said they were “off the grid.”

Both authorities and Thomas’ family have said Cummins “groomed” her for months before the abduction.

After 38 days on the run, Cummins and Thomas were found living in a four-walled shelter in Northern California.

When she returned home to Tennessee, Thomas was taken to an undisclosed location to work with psychologists and counselors.

While she was not physically harmed, she had undergone a series of traumatic events, authorities said.

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Tad Cummins
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

“It’s a highly emotional issue,” Thomas’ father, Anthony Thomas, told PEOPLE last summer after his daughter’s return.

He declined at that time to discuss how Elizabeth was doing but he said that with the family’s support and help of counselors, she was making progress.

“We are doing fine,” he said. “It’s just a process you have to go through.”

Elizabeth returned to Columbia, in Maury County, in July and is home-schooled.

“There’s been so much speculation about me,” she told a local paper in September, in her first public comments after returning home. “There are people saying, ‘She’s not talking for this reason. She’s not talking for that reason.’ It’s not that. It’s just the publicity is affecting people.”

Cummins’ attorney could not be reached on Thursday. Elizabeth’s family declined to comment on news of the plea.

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