NASHVILLE, Tennessee–Elizabeth Thomas will soon be on her way home back to Middle Tennessee, authorities said at a press conference Thursday afternoon at Tennessee Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Nashville.
The 15-year-old Maury County girl was found Thursday morning in a remote area in Northern California along with her former high school teacher Tad Cummins. Cummins, 50, was arrested and will face charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.
The TBI received a tip late Wednesday night that led to authorities in California finding the pair at a rural cabin in Cecilville in Siskiyou County.
Thomas is “healthy and unharmed,” said Brent Cooper, the district attorney for the 22nd judicial district, which covers Maury County.
“Our main concern is how she is emotionally and mentally,” Cooper said, adding that there are agencies available to help her when she is ready.
Authorities said Thomas would travel back to Tennessee on TBI aircraft, but would not disclose any further details about her return out of respect for her privacy.
Thomas and Cummins had been staying at the cabin for about a week and a half with limited or no cell phone service and where snow was on the ground. Authorities had difficulties getting to the location, said TBI spokesman Josh DeVine. He said that Siskiyou County is about nine or ten times the size of Maury County and that the sheriff’s office is two hours away from the cabin where authorities spotted Cummins’ Nissan Rogue.
Cummins was arrested without incident but officials at Thursday’s press conference said they are still gathering information about everything that transpired Thursday morning. Cummins is in the custody of the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office and is awaiting extradition to Tennessee.
Authorities at the press conference thanked the media for keeping the case in the spotlight and also thanked the public for the many leads they received.
“We mobilized the nation,” said TBI director Mark Gwyn. “You can’t hide from that many millions of people looking for you.”
A Tennessee Amber Alert was issued for Thomas on March 14 after she was kidnapped by Cummins a day earlier. On March 17, the TBI added Cummins to the state’s Top 10 Most Wanted list.
Thomas’ family has maintained that her romantic involvement with Cummins was the result of him stalking and grooming her. Asked about Thomas’ possible cooperation with Cummins, Gwyn on Thursday declined to reveal specifics and reminded everyone that she is 15 years old.
Here is the Facebook video of today’s press conference posted in full (begins at about 8:45min).
Editor’s note: You can see The Tennessee Star’s Wendy Wilson in the red dress in the lower right of the screen, reporting live from the press conference.