Family Pleads For Teen's Safe Return

MEMPHIS, Tenn. ( - The family of the missing Middle Tennessee teen at the center of a nationwide Amber Alert made a plea for her safe return.

Elizabeth Thomas was last seen a week ago tomorrow in Columbia, Tennessee. Investigators say she was kidnapped by her former teacher.

Now there is a nationwide manhunt underway for the two. Investigators say the teacher accused of kidnapping the 15-year-old may have planned the abduction in advance.

Last night in Columbia, about 100 community members gathered at Riverwalk Park for a prayer vigil.

"What strikes me tonight is I look and see the candles and they are candles against darkness," said Thomas' great aunt.

Investigators say Thomas was last seen Monday morning being dropped off at a Shoney's restaurant in Columbia. Her former teacher Tad Cummins allegedly is shown on surveillance footage from a gas station near the restaurant.

Cummins is wanted on allegations of aggravated kidnapped and sexual contact with a minor. Investigators say Cummins may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom the young girl in an effort to lure and sexually exploit her.

At last night's candlelight vigil, family members spoke about how much they missed Thomas and want her home safe.

“He stole my daughter from me. He didn't just steal her from me. He stole her from the whole community," said Elizabeth’s father, Anthony Thomas.

"She was the one that really completed the family and made everything better," said her sister.  Another family member added, “Bring her back to us or allow her to call and let us know she is ok."

While Thomas’ friends, family, and the community held this vigil to keep the teen in their prayers, earlier this week, Cummin's wife made a direct plea to the 50-year-old man to turn himself in.

An attorney for Elizabeth's father told media a student saw Cummins kissing Elizabeth on January 24. Both the Maury County Public Schools and the Maury County Sheriff's Department investigated the incident. School officials said Cummins was dismissed as a result of the district investigation.

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says they have had more than 250 tips called in but so far there have been no credible sightings.

They are believed to be in a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tags 976 ZPT.

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