Based on a true story, Lifetime’s thriller drama Abducted by My Teacher focuses on a real person named Mary Catherine Elizabeth Thomas from Maury County, Tennessee. She was abducted at the age of 15 by her 50-year-old health science teacher, Tad Cummins. Along with the fictional drama film, Lifetime has also released a documentary where Elizabeth Thomas shares her true story with abduction survivor and advocate Elizabeth Smart. What’s different in Eliza (Beth)’s story is how she was treated by the local community after the news of her kidnapping flooded the national news outlets.
In Maury County, Tad was a respected member of the community, and it was difficult for anyone to believe that he could have committed such a crime because he was seen as this pious man who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Hence, they looked down on Beth, putting labels on her, both online and offline. Some of her friends even went ahead and called her a temptress who ruined a happy family just because she needed some love and attention, which she wasn’t able to get in her own conflicted family. Elizabeth’s story is not only about her fighting with the predator but also proving to society that she wasn’t at fault in this entire ordeal. She urges people to open their eyes so that they can look beyond the “clean guy” image of a respected individual who is clearly hiding sinister motives beneath a harmless facade.
Who Is Elizabeth Thomas?
Born in 2002, Mary Catherine Elizabeth Thomas came from a poor family and lived with her father and four siblings. She had one elder brother and two sisters; she was the third oldest child in the family. According to her, her family didn’t have enough money to send her to school, so she was mostly homeschooled until she needed an institution for higher studies. Elizabeth came from a very isolated environment, and unfortunately, in high school, too, she was treated indifferently. She had difficulty making friends, and that’s when a 50-year-old teacher, Tad, showed interest in her and tried to groom her in order to fulfill his ulterior motives.
Tad knew Elizabeth’s story. He knew where she came from and what the conditions were in her household. He said all the right things that would emotionally comfort her in order to gain her trust. Eventually, he started holding her hands and kissing her, later leading to the sexual abuse of a minor. Tad wanted to own Elizabeth Thomas. He designed an intricate plan to abduct her from her workspace and run away to New Mexico to start a new life with her. But fortunately, the TBI And FBI got hold of them before they could cross the border and disappear. Tad was arrested and brought to trial, after which he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2019. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is still trying to forget the horrible abuse that she faced during her teenage years.
Is The Story Entirely True?
Abducted by My Teacher is a real story, with a few fictional characters added to the movie for dramatization. We believe the school students Tim, Brandy, and Rachel are fictional characters created to help the viewers understand Elizabeth Thomas’ plight and the things she suffered during her high school years. Director Shawn Linden might have wanted to shed light on the backlash that Elizabeth faced after her story came to light. It was her school friends who blamed her for Tad Cummins’s arrest, as they believed that their super nice teacher couldn’t be blamed for anything of the sort. Because Elizabeth was labeled the new girl, and the students lost their favorite teacher, they blamed Elizabeth for ruining the normal setup. In the end, even after Tad pleaded guilty, the local community had a mixed response to it.
In the documentary, Elizabeth mentions that things got out of hand when a student saw Tad kissing her in school. In Abducted by My Teacher, it was probably Tim who had seen Elizabeth, and maybe the creators revealed the identity of this fictional character in the film as he was the only one in school who sympathized with Elizabeth’s situation and tried to help her in the best way possible. Additionally, some scenes from the church and Elizabeth’s decision to join a choir during Abducted by My Teacher‘s ending might be fictional, as nothing of the sort is mentioned in the documentary.
One major deviation from the true story that we came across was the scene where Elizabeth approached Tad outside the school soon after the police interview. As per the documentary, Tad cornered Elizabeth near his school and threateningly asked her what she had revealed to the police. Obviously, she had lied to the authorities because she was afraid of her predator and the outcome she would have to face if things went public. Fear played a major role in the entire scenario, and Tad knew how to use it as a weapon in this situation. He threatened to harm himself and Elizabeth’s family members if she refused to follow his commands, and therefore Elizabeth had to unwillingly let him do whatever he wanted. Elizabeth made it quite clear that Tad was short-tempered and narcissistic and would unleash his fury upon her if she denied his attempts. She didn’t want to die and therefore submitted to her perpetrator.
We also don’t know whether Tad sexually abused Elizabeth in school or not. In the fictional drama, Tad had a secret room for CPR courses where he would do things with Elizabeth, implying that he had already made his attempt. But in the documentary, it is implied that Tad got his hands on Elizabeth only after he abducted her. In the end, the Lifetime movie presents a few other scenes, like her brother gifting her books to help her fight the trauma. We believe these are the fictional scenes added to Abducted by My Teacher to lift up Elizabeth’s spirit so that she could face her predator and become more of a heroic icon. Though, in real life, we believe she is still fighting the demons of her past in order to overcome those memories.
What Is Grooming?
Lifetime’s documentary Beyond the Headlines often uses the term “in-person grooming” to lay out the fact that an authority figure could manipulate a vulnerable child to their benefit. Grooming is the process by which a person shows love and care towards an individual, which they lack in real life. In Elizabeth’s case, it was Tad Cummins. He knew everything about Elizabeth: where she came from, her family conditions, and things she was struggling with in school and in her own household. He said things she wanted to hear and did things she wanted in life. Tad played with her psyche and did things that either Elizabeth’s mother or father should have done for her, like fixing a job for her or getting her the breakfast she wanted to eat. He kidnapped her with the promise to show her a world she had never seen before, and in the process of fulfilling her desires, he accomplished his own.
Timeline And Tad’s Plan Explained
The kiss between the teacher and the student was reported on January 23, 2017, and on the 30th of the same month, the police authorities were informed. On the very next day, i.e., February 1, the lead investigator, Marcus Albright, called Tad Cummins to the sheriff’s office for an interview. He denied all allegations and told the police that the student might have been mistaken or may have fabricated the entire story. Nevertheless, after the interview, Tad freaked out and thus, made an intricate plan to abduct Elizabeth. He threatened to harm her family and flaunted his gun to force her to go with him. Elizabeth, who was afraid of being murdered by her own teacher, complied with his commands, and on March 13, they both left Maury County.
Tad had left an envelope for his wife, Jill, requesting that she not report his disappearance to the police, but she did exactly the opposite, as Tad had run away with all their savings. A state-wide search for the man and the child started, and after 38 days (39, according to the documentary), the FBI finally got a tip about them. Initially, Tad’s master plan was to paddle from Coronado Island to Mexico, but because of bad weather, he had to abort the crazy idea. Later, he took Elizabeth north towards California, where they could remain off the grid and wait for the dust to settle down before he could plan his next move.
On April 20, 2017, the FBI received a tip about their sighting in an isolated cabin somewhere near California. They quickly reported it to the concerned authorities, who arrested Tad and brought Elizabeth home safely. On January 16, 2019, approximately two years after the tragic incident, the court announced its judgment and sentenced Tad to 20 years in prison. During the making of Abducted by My Teacher, he was still serving his sentence.
What Happens To Elizabeth Thomas?
Two years later, after her predator was sentenced, Elizabeth finally got some closure and the courage to start a new life. She was lucky to find love after her trauma in a wonderful person named Skylar Dirla, and tied the knot with him on June 15, 2019. They are happily married, and Skylar tries his best to erase the haunting memories in Elizabeth’s life and fill the void with his love.