The wife of the former Tennessee teacher accused of abducting a female student in March initially did not believe the allegation that he had kissed the girl on school grounds, her attorney tells PEOPLE.
“She knew that he had been accused of [the kiss] but she did not believe that it had actually occurred,” Michael Cox, the attorney for Jill Cummins, tells PEOPLE.
Jill’s husband, 50-year-old Tad Cummins, is wanted in an ongoing multi-state AMBER Alert after disappearing with 15-year-old freshman Elizabeth Thomas on March 13. Prior to their disappearance, Cummins had been suspended from his job as a health sciences teacher at Culleoka Unit School for allegedly kissing Thomas in January. After the pair went missing, Cummins was fired.
A warrant has been issued for Cummins’ arrest on charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor - the latter charge stemming from the alleged kiss.
According to Cox, Jill didn’t see any signs that her husband was involved with Thomas. And while she is sad and confused, Jill remains hopeful of Thomas’ safe return even though authorities believe she is being kept “off the grid” by Cummins.
In late March, Jill filed for divorce after 31-years-of marriage. After being “taken completely by surprise” by the turn of events, including allegations that her husband had exchanged “romantic” emails with Thomas, Jill decided she had to protect herself and her family by putting their needs first, Cox says.
“[She’s] still trying to get a grasp on the situation on how the person [she thought she] knew could have done this,” Cox says.
Cox adds that Jill “wants this thing to come to an end, to a peaceful resolution.”
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In March, days after her husband disappeared, Jill issued a public plea for Cummins to return home, saying, “Tad, this is not you. This is not who you are. We can help you get through this,” according to local media reports.
In late March, she again begged him to come home, telling NBC News. “You know you can’t hide forever. For your sake and for Beth’s sake, please go to the police or just drop Beth off somewhere safe.”
Cox says that Jill’s “emotions are still raw and it’s a hard thing to talk about for her,” adding, “Even though it’s been a month, [she and her family are] still trying to get used to [this].”
As more information is released on the alleged relationship between Cummins and Thomas, Cox says his client is not focusing on the negative comments accusing her of turning a blind eye.
“She has [not been] having a hard time with it,” Cox tells PEOPLE. “She has received more support than she has criticism. She’s very grateful and thankful.”
Cummins Allegedly Preyed Upon the Child for Months on End’
Last week, Thomas’ father, Anthony Thomas, filed a court petition allowing his lawyer to take depositions of people who allegedly were privy to the teen’s relationship with her teacher but who have been hesitant “to fully cooperate in sharing information,” according to a family statement obtained by PEOPLE.
The petition details the family’s allegations that Cummins groomed Thomas before the abduction. It claims, “Cummins preyed upon the child for months on end, nudging and molding her until her will to resist was conflicted and ultimately broken.”
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On March 21, Tennessee officials released photos of Cummins and Thomas at a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma City three days after they disappeared.
In the images, both appeared to have dyed their hair darker. Cox says when Jill Cummins heard of the photos, she hoped they would help investigators locate the pair.
Officials have previously said the pair may have fled the country to Mexico. Cummins has described himself as a religious man who has worked with children in the past, according to his resume, which was obtained by PEOPLE.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation asks anyone who believes they spot Cummins or Thomas to not approach them and instead keep an eye on them while calling 911.
The teen was last seen wearing a flannel shirt and black leggings. She is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 120 lbs. Authorities said she had blonde hair and hazel eyes but now believe she may have dyed her hair.
Cummins was seen driving a Silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee license plate 976ZPT, according to the TBI. He is 6 feet tall and weighs 200 lbs., with brown hair and eyes.
Anyone with information on Cummins or Thomas should call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.