The Tennessee school teacher accused of kidnapping a teenage girl threatened her for weeks before finally coercing her to go on the run with him, the girl said in an interview with ABC's 20/20.
Elizabeth Thomas, whose disappearance alongside teacher Tad Cummins last year prompted a massive search, told the interviewer Cummins paid her inappropriate compliments before cornering her in the classroom on the day he first kissed her.
Thomas told ABC’s Eva Pilgrim she was sitting on a desk chatting with Cummins, 51, when out of the blue he came onto her.
“You’d look pretty good naked,” Thomas said he told her.
But it wasn’t until he forcibly kissed her that she realized they had crossed a line.
“Whenever he first kissed me, that was when I realized ‘This is going too far,” she told Pilgrim. “He grabbed my face.”
Thomas, who was 15 at the time, said she had been homeschooled and had never had a boyfriend, and avoided telling anyone about the incident.
“I didn’t wanna tell my parents that a grown man kissed me, and I didn’t wanna tell my friends that a grown man kissed me, because I don’t like having the spotlight on me,” she said in the interview clip, a preview of a longer interview set to air Friday night.
The interview is Thomas’ first on-camera interview since her ordeal.
Cummins’ predatory relationship with Thomas first came to light when a 12-year-old student at Culleoka Unit School in Culleoka, Tennessee, told administrators she had seen Cummins kissing Thomas, the Tennessean reported.
He was suspended Feb. 6, 2017, and the pair went on the lam a little over a month later on March 13, 2017, sparking a 38-day nationwide manhunt for the pair. The case received national attention, and credible sightings flooded in, with people spotting the pair in Oklahoma, where Thomas said they threw away their cell phones to avoid detection.
They eventually made it to San Diego, where Cummins planned to kayak from Coronado Island across San Diego Bay to Mexico, but the older man scrapped that idea after taking a test ride and deeming the water too dangerous, CNN reported at the time.
Cops finally caught up with the two living in a tiny cabin in Cecilville, California, a tiny, unincorporated community about 50 miles south of the Oregon border, where they had been passing themselves off as husband and wife, according to an NBC report at the time.
Police swooped in on April 20 and arrested Cummins after a tipster reported the pair’s location to authorities, NBC reported. Following his arrest, Cummins admitted to having sexual contact with the teenage girl on “most” nights of their time on the lam.
In an impromptu interview with the Columbia Daily Herald, a local newspaper, last September, Thomas told the paper’s editor she was still wrestling with a variety of feelings in the wake of her disappearance and eventual rescue.
“I don’t regret it, nor do I say it was the right thing to do,” she said, according to the Daily Herald. “It was an experience I’ll have to live with the rest of my life. It’s good and bad. It’s there. No matter what we do, we’ll have to deal with it.”
Cummins pleaded guilty on April 5 to charges of transporting a minor across state lines and obstruction of justice, according to federal prosecutors. He’s due to be sentenced on Monday, and faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a possible life sentence, according to the Department of Justice.
[Photo: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation]