On March 13, 2017, school teacher Tad Cummins forced his teenage student, Elizabeth Thomas, to run away with him. The two were gone for 38 days, during which time a nationwide manhunt was underway to locate the missing Maury County teen.
Friday marks the first time that Thomas will speak to the media about those 38 days on the run with Cummins. She will open about their relationship, what he forced her into, and how she escaped.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Cummins Wife Says She Viewed Her Husband’s Relationship with Elizabeth as “a Father-Daughter Relationship”
Tad Cummins was married to his wife, Jill, for over 30 years. She has since filed for divorce, according to The Tennessean.
Jill tells 20/20, that she always saw the relationship between Elizabeth and her husband as a “father-daughter relationship.” She even says Elizabeth was like a part of the family and even attended church with the couple and their family. It was during a visit to church with the family that, in fact, that Cummins gave Thomas a Bible as a present.
“… I called her our third daughter sometimes,” Jill tells 20/20.
The day that Elizabeth was reported missing, Cummins left a note for his wife saying he was “leaving town to clear his head,” according to the Tennessean.
2. Cummins Began to Text Thomas Sexual Text Messages
At some point, Cummins’ relationship with Elizabeth turned sexual. He began to send her inappropriate text messages through Instagram. She tells 20/20, “Most of them from him would be sexual text … like sexting. If you know what that — I’m pretty sure you know what that means.”
In one instance, he texted her, “You’d look pretty nice naked.”
One day, a student witnessed the two kissing and told the authorities. They spoke to Cummins, but he denied any intimate contact with Elizabeth. The two were subsequently allowed to go on a field trip together.
A day after the field trip, the school demanded Cummins and Thomas no longer speak to one another. Not long after that, Cummins was suspended.
His teaching license has since been revoked.
3. Elizabeth Says She Realized It Was ‘Getting Too Far’ When He Kissed Her
Elizabeth says it wasn’t until Cummins kissed her that she realized it was getting out of hand. “I didn’t want anyone to really know. I was scared of what would happen if anyone did know. I didn’t want to make him mad or make him want to come after me or anything like that.”
During the 38 days that he was on the run with her, Elizabeth says Cummins forced her to have sex “every day”.
4. She Says He Threatened Her to Go on the Run with Him
While he was suspended, Cummins continued to speak to Elizabeth through text message. Thomas tells 20/20, “I had to keep in communication with him while he was suspended. And any time that I wouldn’t post for a few hours, he would go crazy and say that I was cheating on him and saying if he found out that I was with another boy, he’d kill them.”
Cummins then forced Elizabeth to go on the run with him– he said if she didn’t, he’d kill himself. “He threatened to shoot himself, to use the guns. He had two of them,” she explains.
She says she was reluctant about going with him but was worried that if she didn’t something worse may happen.
5. They Were Found at a Remote Cabin near Cecilville
Cummins and Thomas were eventually found with the help of a citizen’s tip at a remote cabin in Cecilville, California. He was arrested on April 20, 2017, according to The Tennessean.
In April 2018, Cummins pleaded guilty. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years behind bars for taking a minor across state lines for sex. He is expected to be sentenced later this year.
In early 2018, the Maury County School District denied a lawsuit filed by Elizbeth and her father which said the school had “ignored warning signs and failed its obligation to protect students from a predator,” reports the Tennessean.
A rebuttal from the school board read, “Neither (the board) nor any of its agents permitted or empowered the described improper relationship or abduction to occur,” according to the rebuttal filed by the school board.”