April 21 (UPI) — A 15-year-old girl who authorities say was abducted by a former high school teacher and taken 2,000 miles across the United States was returned to her family in Tennessee on Friday.
Elizabeth Thomas was last seen in the state in mid-March when she was allegedly kidnapped by Tad Cummins. Following a five-week national search, the pair were found Thursday living in a rural Northern California cabin after receiving a witness tip.
Authorities said the girl was unharmed. Friday, she was reunited with her family and remains under protective care.
“She is being evaluated and treated by mental health experts specializing in trauma,” the Thomas family said in a statement. “There is no doubt that she suffered severe emotional trauma and that her process of recovery is only just beginning.”
Anthony Thomas, Elizabeth’s father, told ABC’s Good Morning America Friday that he believes his girl was psychologically manipulated — answering, “yes,” when asked if he believes Elizabeth was “brainwashed.”
“There’s going to be some therapy involved,” he said. “It’s going to take some time.”
Cummins, 50, a former Maury County, Tenn., high school teacher is in federal custody in Sacramento awaiting transfer to Tennessee, where he faces multiple criminal charges in the case.
“There is no doubt that she has suffered severe emotional trauma and that her process of recovery is only just beginning,” family spokesman Jason Whatley said Friday. “The family is extremely grateful for the thoughts and prayers of the nation and asks sincerely for those continued prayers as Elizabeth becomes able to process the last 39 days.”
Investigators are still trying to determine the sequence of events that took place after March 13. It wasn’t immediately known whether the girl was forced to flee against her will or if she was somehow talked into going along.
“Elizabeth is a little child. She could easily pass for 12,” Whatley continued. “The primary photo used and reprinted so many times by law enforcement, the media, and even our office, is inaccurate. She is a little girl in every sense of the word.”
The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service joined state authorities in the search for Thomas.