WASHINGTON -- (WZTV) -- Elizabeth Thomas, the Tennessee teen whose kidnapping in March sparked a nationwide manhunt, gave her first interview since the ordeal to local newspaper The Columbia Daily Herald.
Speaking with a reporter in a Columbia, Tennessee fast-food restaurant, Thomas said she is not allowed to discuss the details of her case, as a juvenile court judge had placed a gag order on parties involved.
However, "I don't mind telling you about myself," Thomas said.
Now a high school junior, the teen returned to Columbia permanently in July, she said. She spent a total of 78 days in therapy; crucial to her recovery following her ordeal earlier this year.
Thomas was allegedly kidnapped by her teacher, 51-year-old Tad Cummins, on March 13, and not found until April 20. Her disappearance triggered a nationwide Amber Alert; Cummins had allegedly brought her across the country to California.
HE 'WAS STALKING THE CHILD'
Court documents reveal the alleged toxicity of the relationship between student and teacher.
In them, Thomas' family says Cummins picked the then-15-year-old Thomas up from her father's home on "more than one occasion," saying if she did not go with him "she would face repercussions at school."
On the morning of her disappearance, Thomas told a friend she wanted to go home and she was "having second thoughts about spending the day with him."
In the months prior to the kidnapping, the family says Cummins was often alone with Thomas at the school.
A fellow student allegedly found Thomas one morning before class sleeping on a hospital bed in Cummins' classroom. Others allegedly witnessed physical contact between Cummins and Thomas, including Thomas rubbing her back and shoulders.
Thomas had a "special seat" next to Cummins and the family says he would give her gifts and money, according to the documents. There were other statements made towards Thomas by Cummins which the family says were threats, "coercion, intimidation, and fraud exacted upon the child." Following Cummins' suspension from school, the family says he frequented the place of Thomas' work where she would sometimes serve him.
The family says in short, "Cummins was stalking the child."
BACK TO 'NORMAL'
Now home and with Cummins behind bars, Thomas says she is "pretty happy now that I'm back with my brother."
The pair lives apart from her father and other siblings, which Thomas says "is just safer...instead of in the middle of everything."
When asked where she was attending school, Thomas said she is home-schooling, and her brother is tutoring her.
"I can't really complain right now," Thomas said of her day-to-day life. "I babysit kids, and I work in Columbia. I am studying at home."
Her favorite subjects, she said, are economics and science. In two years, she hopes to be attending college at either MTSU or Vanderbilt, she said.
When asked what she'd like to say to those in her hometown, Thomas says she's "happy to be back and that people are so accepting."
Rumors she may appear on Dr. Phil's show may or may not be true, Thomas said.
"We're all just joking about it right now," she said.
'AN EXPERIENCE I'LL HAVE TO LIVE WITH'
When asked if she wanted to get anything off her chest, the teen answered:
"It’s only been recently that I wanted to talk — to anyone. There’s been some much speculation about me. There are people saying, 'She’s not talking for this reason. She’s not talking for that reason.' It’s not that. It’s just the publicity is affecting people. Everyone just needs to calm down. I am a human being. I can answer things fairly. But people are asking things that are too personal. People are talking to me like they know me. They didn’t talk to me before. They didn’t try to know me before. They have only liked me since I came back."
Of "leaving town," Thomas said:
"I don’t regret it, nor do I say it was the right thing to do. 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."