Family of teen believed to have been kidnapped by teacher speaks out

MAURY COUNTY, Tenn. -- It has now been eight days since 15-year-old Mary Catherine Elizabeth Thomas disappeared after she was allegedly kidnapped by her teacher.

Related: Tennessee manhunt: No sign of teacher and teenager

For family members of the missing girl, who goes by Elizabeth, her absence has been excruciating.  The last time anyone in her family saw Elizabeth Thomas, it was early Monday morning when she left with a somber warning.

"She woke up her older sister and said 'Hey I'm leaving, but if I'm not back by six come looking for me,'" her sister-in-law Danielle Thomas told WHNT.

Danielle said they didn't even know anything was wrong until they saw the Amber Alert.  Police are now searching for Elizabeth and her 50-year-old former teacher, Tad Cummins.  Cummins was fired after he allegedly kissed the freshman.

"We were shocked and dumbfounded. We just couldn't believe it. You think that's going to happen to your neighbor, you don't think that's going to happen to you," she explained.

Danielle Thomas said it bothers her that people would say Elizabeth isn't a victim, just because she might have gone willingly.

Elizabeth's Instagram profile now describes her as "wife" with a ring emoji next to it. On the day she disappeared, a "Beauty and the Beast" quote, "Every Beauty needs her Beast to protect her from everything but him," was posted to her account, according to CBS. On Cummins' page, the words "Let's do this" were posted.

"In a way she did go willingly," Danielle said, "But she is again only 15 years old. This man was an authority figure in her life and he ultimately knows better."

Danielle said the family wants to hope she's not in danger, and that Elizabeth realizes how loved she is.  "She's got so many people, so many friends, so many family members that just, their hearts are breaking because we miss her. We want her back home."

When asked what Elizabeth was like, Danielle Thomas described her as a joke teller, and a clown.

"She just really likes laughing and joking around with people," she said.

For her family members, who call her Mary Catherine, the missing teen is more than just a face on an Amber Alert flier – she is one of ten kids, a social butterfly among them, and is deeply loved.

"She was the most outgoing, most easy-going out of all of the children. She was close with everybody," said her sister-in-law. "They say that the house is not the same without her – that it's cold, and quiet, and everybody just wants her to come home," she said.

While her sister-in-law doesn't place blame on it, she said that Elizabeth suffered a troubled childhood and admits that it might have left her more vulnerable to this type of situation.

"I think that any child who has been through a rough situation, whether it be small or big, is more susceptible," she said.

But no matter the circumstances, her family said they will be there for her. They have a specific message for her:

"Mary Catherine needs to know nobody here is mad at her, and she is always welcome back home. We are all going to be here when she comes back, and we're all going to love her."

Her family said they know the situation has been shared extensively in the Tennessee Valley, and they ask that community members keep sharing.

Police have received hundreds of tips from the public but the lack of confirmed sightings leads investigators to believe Cummins may have left Tennessee or is keeping the 15-year-old hidden from view.

On Monday, March 7th, surveillance cameras recorded Cummins buying hair dye at a Walmart, but the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation determined the dye "was not connected to any plan to change his appearance or that of Elizabeth Thomas."

According to the TBI, Cummins did online research to find out how law enforcement would try to track his vehicle, and also searched for information about teen marriage.

Cummins is believed to be armed with two handguns and driving a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tag 976-ZPT.  He's now one Tennessee's "Top 10 Most Wanted" fugitives and authorities are offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to his capture.  The public is asked to keep looking for Cummins and to call (800) TBI-FIND with any tips.