Breaking News Emails
The Tennessee teenager who was allegedly kidnapped by a teacher more than a month ago — and recovered in California this week — has been reunited with her family, an attorney for them said.
Elizabeth Thomas, 15, was in a safe location and resting comfortably, attorney Jason Whatley said in a statement, adding that she was being evaluated and treated by mental health experts specializing in trauma.
"There is no doubt that she suffered severe emotional trauma and that her process of recovery is only just beginning," he said Friday.
Whatley noted that while the family is "extremely grateful for the thoughts and prayers" that they have received, they are asking for privacy following the ordeal, which began March 13 when Thomas and 50-year-old Tad Cummins disappeared.
Whatley added that he was "taken aback" by how small Thomas looked upon meeting her, and said the law enforcement and media were misguided by using photos of her appearing older.
"Elizabeth is a little child. The primary photo used and reprinted ... is very inaccurate," Whatley said. "She is a little girl in every sense of the word. This was the abduction of an impressionable, little child."
Law enforcement, including the FBI and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, helped in the recovery of Thomas on Thursday morning in the small community of Cecilville, California, after a caller tipped off their remote cabin location the night before. Cummins was arrested at the site.
The caller, Griffin Barry, owned the cabin, and said he found it suspicious that Cummins didn't have money and silenced Thomas from speaking up.
"He talked for her a lot," Barry told NBC affiliate KOBI. "[Thomas] was kind of shy and timid, or something. He said she was 24, and he said he was 38."
The FBI transported Cummins to the Sacramento County Main Jail on Friday night, and the U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District of California said he would make an appearance in the federal courthouse on Monday. He remains ineligible for bail.
Whatley said that the FBI reached out to Thomas' family and first reconnected them by phone after Cummins' arrest. Thomas underwent a forensic interview as the victim of a crime on Thursday afternoon, authorities added.
Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey told NBC News that Cummins was cooperative in the arrest and that Thomas' emotions indicated they had a "relationship."
"I can tell you that her mood was kind of escalated ... you know sometimes she was emotional, you know it was a very traumatic experience for her," Lopey said. "It was kind of a roller coaster of emotions for her."
Cummins was Thomas' forensics teacher at their high school in Maury County, south of Nashville. Police say he had been researching teen marriages and was seen kissing Thomas at the school earlier in the year.
After an Amber Alert was sent for Thomas, a judge with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee issued a federal warrant on Thursday in Nashville to arrest Cummins under Title 18 of the United States code that prohibits "transportation of a minor with the intent to engage in sexual activity."
Cummins was charged with sexual contact and aggravated kidnapping after police say he kept two loaded handguns in the cabin.
Thomas' friend, Ashlee Riggins, told NBC News that she was surprised that the pair had traveled as far as California and was thankful that the cabin owner caught on to them.
"I [texted] her, 'I'm so glad that you have been found and I can't wait to see you after so long, I love you' as soon as I found out," Riggins said. "I was worried about her safety with his two handguns."