Friend, lawyer for missing Tennessee teen question school district reaction
NASHVILLE, Tenn.--A family friend and lawyers representing the family of Elizabeth Thomas are asking for Elizabeth's safe return and questioning Maury County School's reaction-time during the investigation.
Thomas, the subject of an AMBER Alert in Tennessee and Alabama, is believed to be in the custody of her former Maury County Schools teacher Tad Cummins. Cummins, 50, is believed to be armed with two handguns and driving a silver Nissan Rogue.
As for 15-year-old Thomas, a family friend, who wants to remain unidentified, says it has now been 72 hours since her disappearance, and Cummins is taking advantage of a girl who is "vulnerable."
The friend said it's sad to see an authority figure take advantage of Thomas.
"He (Cummins) saw an opportunity and he took it," the source said.
The family friend also believes Maury County Schools dropped the ball and that "they are partially to blame for the situation," in the friend's opinion.
It's a sentiment echoed by Attorney Jason Whatley, who is representing the Thomas family. What has really irked Whatley is a statement released by Maury County Schools.
On Wednesday, Maury County Schools released the following statement:
"Maury County Public Schools suspended the Culleoka Unit School teacher involved in the law enforcement investigation once we were notified of the allegations. Since then, the teacher has been dismissed as a result of the investigation. The district does not tolerate any manner of behavior that is alleged in this incident and will take swift action to remove parties from school campuses who are involved with investigations of this type."
Whatley says things don't add up. He said while he is a supporter of the school district, their statement is "patently false," and the "public was misled."
"From our perspective, the allegations arose on January 23rd based on information we were given, our client wasn't informed of the allegations until January 31st by law enforcement, one week and a day later," Whatley said.
The attorney said the statement from the district that Cummins was suspended "once we were notified" isn't accurate because when his firm got involved in the case, Cummins was "still there on February 6th."
Whatley says Thomas' father is "very upset about the revelation."
A spokesperson for Maury County Schools sent teh following statement to Fox 17 regarding the investigation.
"A student (not Thomas) filed a report with Culleoka Unit School administration on January 24. The next day, January 25, Culleoka Unit School administration contacted the central office concerning the report, and the investigation began and continued to January 31 when results of the investigation were delivered to the teacher.
During the investigation, both the teacher and the student were instructed to have no contact. The student was transferred out of Cummins’ class. At that time, there were no findings to substantiate suspension of the teacher. The suspension on February 6 was precipitated by insubordination by Mr. Cummins. There was a continuing investigation by the Maury County Sheriff’s Office. You can collect their report and findings from the sheriff’s office. Cummins’ dismissal on March 14 was a result of the TBI’s issuance of the alert.
Mrs. Cummins is an associate for the instructional department at the central office; she has been with the central office since 1999. Mr. Cummins was not given any special consideration."
Both the family friend and Whatley have concerns for Thomas' safety. Whatley says "we're scared to death for her."
The family friend says if Thomas reads this, he wants her to know "everybody misses her."
"Elizabeth, we need you home, we miss you, we love you," the friend said. "There's a lot more to life than what's going on in front of you."
As for Cummins, the friend says, "I implore you to turn yourself in. You're already looking at a potential life sentence. What if someone did this to your daughter?"
The family friend says Cummins is married and does have children of his own.
The family friend says he is talking with the family to come out publicly and speak with the media in hopes it will get Thomas to come back home.
The family issued a statement by attorney Cory Ricci, also representing the family:
"We want to thank the Maury County Sheriff’s Office, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies working to find Elizabeth, the Amber Alert system for quickly getting out the alert about her, and all of you who have shared Elizabeth’s photo and story in hopes of helping to find her. Your prayers and support are deeply appreciated.
We ask that you continue to share Elizabeth’s story and to immediately notify law enforcement if you think you may have seen her. You can be Elizabeth’s eyes, her ears and her voice. Your information or tip may be what leads to getting this child home.
As a family, we are focused on one thing and one thing only – Elizabeth’s quick and safe return. Because of that, we will not be making any further statements, and we ask the news media recognize and respect our desire for privacy as we deal with this situation.
Thank you." - Family of Elizabeth Thomas