Is ‘Abducted by My Teacher: The Elizabeth Thomas Story’ on Lifetime a True Story? What to Know About the Real Elizabeth Thomas
That tearing sound you hear is coming from Lifetime, as they rip a whole new batch of headlines for their upcoming slate of movies. First up is Abducted by My Teacher: The Elizabeth Thomas Story, a thriller starring Summer Howell and Michael Fishman. It’s the latest movie from executive producer Elizabeth Smart, whose own story of survival inspired the Lifetime movie I Am Elizabeth Smart.
As with many Lifetime movies, Abducted by My Teacher proclaims to be based on true events — but what really happened to Elizabeth Thomas? Here’s what we know.
Oh yes, Abducted by My Teacher: The Elizabeth Thomas Story is absolutely based on a true story.
When 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas entered Culleoka Unit School in Culleoka, Tennessee (pop. 5,000) for the 2016/2017 school year, she had no idea that she was about to be targeted by her 50-year-old health sciences teacher. Tad Cummins reached out to Thomas, acting as a kind of mentor while in reality grooming Thomas for something much darker. Thomas noticed that Cummins was staring at her during class and their text exchanges started to become increasingly lewd. Thomas’ father noted that Cummins would often take Thomas out to eat; Thomas claimed that Cummins threatened to retaliate via bad grades if she didn’t go along with it.
Then another student saw Cummins kiss Thomas at the high school in January 2017 and local authorities became involved. Both teacher and student denied any wrongdoing (although prosecutors in Cummins’ eventual trial claimed that he had sex with Thomas at the school multiple times). Cummins was then suspended from his job, and that’s when the getaway plans were set in motion.
Five weeks later — March 13, 2017 — he told his wife at the time that he was leaving for a job interview… and instead ran away with two guns, $4500, two prescription refills of the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis, and also Elizabeth Thomas. Thomas also left her home that morning, bags packed, but she apparently told her sister to call the cops if she was not “back by 6.”
The FBI was of course alerted when Thomas was not home by 6 p.m. or 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. the next day. The authorities tracked Cummins and Thomas to Alabama, a Walmart and Super 8 in Oklahoma, and ultimately northern California where they holed up in a shack in Cecilville. Even though they were posing as a married couple and using pseudonyms, it was hard for them to go unnoticed because this kidnapping was all over the national news. Sure enough, a couple of locals recognized Cummins and immediately alerted the police. A SWAT team arrested Cummins and, after 38 days, Thomas was finally reunited with her family.
Thomas says Cummins threatened her to keep her around, saying he would kill himself and/or hurt her family.
Tad Cummins was a health sciences teacher at Culleoka Unit School in Tennessee. At the time of the kidnapping, he was 50 and married —and he was also used to grooming high school girls for potentially inappropriate relationships. While Elizabeth Thomas’ kidnapping was making national headlines, a former student came forward and alleged that Cummins had pursued her in a similar fashion a few years prior.
Cummins lost his wife, job, and life due to this whole fiasco. His wife filed for divorce and the school fired him for good after he was arrested. Even though he told Thomas that he believed the devil made him commit all of these crimes, he still pleaded guilty to federal counts of transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of engaging in criminal sexual conduct and obstruction of justice. Thomas, in turn, requested that he be sentenced to 38 years in jail — a year for every day she was held hostage. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and will have to be registered as a sex offender upon his release.
A year after the incident, Elizabeth Thomas fell in love with 18-year old Skylar Dirla. He proposed to Elizabeth, who now goes by Liz, and the two are married and have a child.
In 2020, Thomas’ family sued the Maury County Board of Education on her behalf (as she was not yet 18). They claimed that other faculty members were aware of the inappropriate relationship. Maury County settled for $650,000 and specifically stated that the settlement was not an admission of liability. Additionally, the settlement came with an agreement that Elizabeth Thomas and her family would throw out the lawsuit. The settlement also dictates that neither party can say mean things about the other one.
in 2020, her family sued the Maury County Board of Education on her behalf, as she was not yet 18, and settled for $650,000. They claimed that other faculty members were aware of the inappropriate relationship. However, the settlement specifically stated that the Maury County Board of Education does not admit any liability and instead settled in order to throw out the lawsuit from Thomas’ family and keep her from suing them ever again. Additionally, the settlement dictates that neither party can say mean things about the other one.
Yes, and it will air on Lifetime after screenings of Abducted by My Teacher: The Elizabeth Thomas story. Beyond the Headlines: The Elizabeth Thomas Story with Elizabeth Smart premieres on Lifetime on Saturday, August 12 at 10 p.m. ET.
Abducted by My Teacher: The Elizabeth Thomas Story premieres on Lifetime on Saturday, August 12 at 8 p.m. ET
If you or someone you know needs to reach out about sexual abuse or assault, RAINN is available 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE (4673), or online at RAINN.org.