Mental health expert shares warning signs of grooming and manipulation

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Court documents show, Tad Cummins employed several calculated techniques to groom Elizabeth Thomas into going away with him.

Law enforcement has said many times, this is not a love story. Even though Elizabeth Thomas went willingly with Cummins, they say she was manipulated into trusting him.

On January 30, 2017, another student reported they saw Cummins kissing Thomas in his classroom.

Paula Wolfteich with the National Children's Advocacy Center said, instances like these are classic signs of a sexual predator grooming a victim,

"Giving them special attention, spending one on one with them apart from their peers or family," said Wolfteich.

She says predators often seek out the most vulnerable because they're the easiest to exploit.

“Kind of filling whatever need it is that the child or teen has that would engage them," said Wolfteich.

The federal complaint shows that Cummins used the same techniques on his wife.

March 13th, the same day of the abduction, Cummins borrowed his wife's 2015 Nissan Rogue, telling her he had a job interview. That was a lie.

The same day, she found a note from Cummins that he would be traveling to the D.C. area to "clear his head," and to not call the police. That was also a lie.

Before he left, Cummins borrowed cash for the trip, saying it was to cover his bases during unemployment. He lied again.

"There can essentially be this whole narrative that the abuser is keeping alive to cover up what his real intentions are," said Wolfteich.

The 39 days on the run may have been the most destructive, but it may not be the most challenging for Thomas.

"Sometimes reintegration back into home and the community can be more traumatizing than the event itself because now she’s hearing from other people that this was not a normal relationship, not a healthy relationship," she said.

And make no mistake, Paula said, this wasn't love.

“We believe that with this sort of age difference and power differential, that a teen is not able to give consent to this type of relationship," said Wolfteich.

She said, with the right mental health experts assisting, Elizabeth and others can find peace.

“It’ll take time, but it’s not impossible. I believe that kids and teens are very resilient," said Wolfteich.

As this case transitions to criminal charges, Paula said, Elizabeth will need to be a key witness for the prosecution, but that will be painful for her.

She recommends law enforcement conducts an open-ended, non-leading interview so she can tell her story about what happened.