Professor 'grooms' teenager, forces her to leave home and travel across the country with him
Tad Cummins, 51, pleaded guilty on Thursday to obstruction of justice and crossing state lines to have sex with a minor
A Tennessee teenager whose 50-year-old teacher, in an attempt to flee justice, took her across America for 38 days has finally spoken out in her first sit-down interview about how she feared the repercussions if she did not comply with his demands, People reports.
“I did [feel trapped] because my little sister was there and all my family was there,” Elizabeth Thomas, 16, says in an interview with ABC’s 20/20 airing Friday night. “And if I didn’t go, something bad would happen to them.”
ABC News' Eva Pilgrim asked her if she feared for her family's safety after Tad Cummins, her health sciences teacher, instructed her to come along. Elizabeth responded by saying, “I mean, whenever he’d threaten me, and especially with guns, wouldn’t you believe that?”
She continued, “He threatened to shoot himself or use the guns or — he had two of them. He said if he couldn’t have me, he’d kill himself."
The pair's disappearance back in March 2017 sparked a nationwide manhunt that ended only a month later when both Cummins and Thomas were found living in a four-walled shelter in Northern California.
Cummins allegedly "groomed" the teenager for months and pressured her into spending more time with him prior to their disappearance, authorities and Elizabeth’s family said.
In a court filing last year, Elizabeth's family said she “was scared of Cummins [and] she felt ‘in over her head.’ ”
One more than one occasion, Cummins picked Elizabeth up from her residence to go out for a meal, according to a court petition filed by Elizabeth's father. He would allegedly threaten her that "if she did not go with him, she would face repercussions at school.”
After being named as a suspect in Elizabeth's case, Cummins was immediately fired from his teaching job. Shortly after, his wife filed for divorce and put their house on the market for sale.
In April, the professor pleaded guilty to federal counts of transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of engaging in criminal sexual conduct and obstruction of justice.
With his sentencing reportedly scheduled for December, Cummins faces a mandatory minimum term of 10 years in prison.
However, after the harrowing ordeal, Elizabeth's father told People she was recovering. “It’s just a process you have to go through,” he said. “[We’re] being very supportive.”
The teenager spoke to the Daily Heard last September in an impromptu interview and said she wasn't regretful of what she did. “Nor do I say it was the right thing to do,” she said. “It was an experience I’ll have to live with the rest of my life.”
In a conversation with ABC, Elizabeth said, “[People] think they know what happened. They think that I’m a whore. They think that I like old men and that’s not the case.”