(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) — The father of the Tennessee teen found more than a month after she was allegedly kidnapped by a former teacher said the girl’s family wants her to be the same person she was before she disappeared.
But Anthony Thomas told ABC News that his 15-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, has now had experiences that may have changed her.
“What we want to see when we look at her is the child we knew,” Thomas told ABC News. “She may not be exactly … the person she was because there’s a lot of experiences she’s had.”
After Elizabeth was found, authorities described her as “healthy and unharmed,” but added that the main concern is the state of her emotional and mental well-being.
Her father said that even physically, she has at least temporarily changed.
“She has lost a lot of weight,” Anthony Thomas said.
Elizabeth was allegedly kidnapped by her former teacher, Tad Cummins, 50, on March 13 and taken on the run. She and Cummins were found at a remote cabin in northern California near the Oregon border where he was captured Thursday.
Cummins, who surrendered to police without incident, faces charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, authorities said.
The teen returned to Tennessee on Friday and is currently in a “safe location with family and friends where she is comfortable and resting,” said Jason Whatley, who is representing the Thomas family.
Elizabeth’s father told ABC News that the family to “just keep things positive” in their interactions with her at this stage.
“I go in there and tell her how much I missed her, how much I love her and how much her dog missed her,” Anthony Thomas said.
“I’m not allowed to ask her about things that happened along the way right now,” he said.
He said that one of the first things Elizabeth asked for “was to see her baby sister.”
That hasn’t happened yet, the father said. “Now is not really the time.”
Thomas recounted his daughter’s take-charge personality. “She used to really believe in herself. She had this confidence,” he said. “She was always a leader. She was very outspoken.”
“I think she has the determination to really go somewhere in life,” he said. “But right now she really needs a lot of help.”
Thomas said the first material things Elizabeth asked for upon returning to Tennessee were a shower and a razor.
He added that she has few clothes in her possession right now. “All of the clothes she had with her were taken for evidence” after she and Cummins were found, he said. And many of the clothes she had left at home were previously taken by law enforcement to help with the investigation, he said.
Thomas said the loss of her clothes may be difficult for his teen daughter. “She was always particular with the way she dressed.”
Elizabeth also asked to see her father upon her return to Tennessee, he said. “It was really great to have her tell her she loved me,” he said.
He said his daughter had told authorities that she was afraid her father would be mad at her. “I think Tad had told her too, ‘There’s no way you can go home because your dad is just going to be mad at you,'” Thomas said.
The father said he believes Cummins was aware of the search for him and his daughter, but he’s not sure if his daughter knew before she was found the extent of the effort to find them. “Tad was apparently aware of all the flyers and all the things he saw,” the father said. “I’m not sure of the extent he let her be exposed to that.”
Thomas reflected on the difficulty of parenting a teenager, and then having that child disappear.
“At the end of the day when they’re gone, you find out you can’t live without them,” he said.
Cummins is expected to make his first court appearance at 2 p.m. Monday in federal court in Sacramento.
In addition to facing charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, he also faces a federal charge of transportation of a minor across state lines with the intent of having criminal sexual intercourse, which has been filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee, authorities said. That charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
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