Abducted by My Teacher: The Elizabeth Thomas Story (2023 Lifetime)
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Director: Shawn Linden
Writer: Kristine Huntley
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Synopsis (via Lifetime)
Elizabeth Thomas (Summer Howell) was just a 15-year-old high schooler who wanted to make friends when she caught the eye of Tad Cummins (Michael Fishman), a trusted, beloved and married high school teacher. Making her feel safe and loved, he groomed Elizabeth for months, and ultimately coerced her to go on the run with him after another student reported seeing him kiss Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s abduction set off a nationwide manhunt and her over month-long ordeal came to an end when the pair was discovered in northern California and Cummins was arrested. After enduring sexual abuse at the hands of Cummins, Elizabeth was left to face those in her home town who thought that she was responsible for her own kidnapping. Ultimately, Elizabeth bravely stood up in court and helped send the teacher she once trusted to prison.
Based on a True Story.
The movie begins with a ponytailed teen hurriedly packing a bag. Her name is Beth; before she leaves, she tells her irresponsible older sister, Dawn, to call the police if she isn’t home by 9 pm.
6 Month Earlier, Elizabeth Thomas starts at a new school because Her parents are recently divorced. It is a big transition since Beth’s mother home-schooled her and her sisters. Beth is now the primary caretaker for her sisters, even though she is the middle child. Her older brother Ben isn’t around as much because he works and doesn’t live with them. The father, Ed, is MIA but has full custody of the kids.
Beth does not fit in at school, and the students think she is weird/trailer trash. (Which is rude because Beth doesn’t even live in a trailer!) Beth takes a health class with a “cool” teacher named Tad Cummings, but he asks students to be on a first-name basis with him. He sees Beth eating her lunch alone on the floor and bonds with her over being a loser. Tad shows Beth to a group of kids who are also outcasts. Then Beth misses her bus, and Tad offers her a ride home.
On the drive home, Tad shows her a picture of his family. Then he notices a cut on Beth’s finger and puts a band-aid on it. Tad asks about Beth’s home life and tries to relate to her. Then he invites Beth and the other outcast to lunch in his classroom instead. Tad gives Beth a salad his wife made him. He later asks his wife to help Elizabeth by taking her to church, and she agrees.
Beth dresses in her Sunday best at church and is very thankful when Tad gives her a leather-bound bible. When she comes home from church, Beth finds her little sister Lily with a bruise on her face. Kids were bullying Lily because of their mom. Beth vents to Tad about how unfair it all is and Tad is impressed by “how mature” she is and tells her she is an “impressive young lady.” Then tells her that he thinks she would look “great naked.”
Beth is caught off guard, feels highly uncomfortable, and asks a girl from the lunch crew named Rachel if anything inappropriate has happened between them. Rachel laughs it off and says he was probably trying to make her feel better because of her rough family life. The next day after class, Tad apologizes for crossing a line and asks her to keep it a secret. Then he tells her she is “incredible” and “special.” and kisses her.
To find a way to avoid her teacher, she takes up an afterschool job. Finding a job is hard for her because she is only fifteen. Tad helps her get a job at a restaurant. Then he gives her a heart necklace to celebrate. Then he takes her to his office, where he has a bed for “naps.” These private meetings continue, and they text using secret code names. Beth is “Frank,” and Tad is “Kristal.”
Ben makes an appearance at home and gives Beth some brotherly advice. He tells her to have fun in high school because he never got to.
A detective questions Beth after another student alleges that they saw Tad and Beth kissing in his classroom. Tad denies the allegations and says he gives Beth special attention because she is troubled. The detective’s questions are all met with explanations from Tad and Beth. They ask the student and teacher to have no contact during the investigation.
Tad meets Beth outside work and says he will be there for her even if they can’t physically be together. He promises it will all blow over. The other students are pissed because they can’t hang out with the “cool” teacher anymore and blame Beth. They call her a slut and judge her for “seducing” a married man.
They continue to meet at Beth’s work parking lot, and eventually, Tad comes up with a plan. He wants to use his “special forces skills” and go on the run together. He tells her he loves her and will kill himself if she doesn’t go with him. Beth doesn’t want to leave her family, so he threatens to hurt them if she doesn’t follow his plan.
Tad tells his wife he has a job interview and borrows her Honda. Then he picks Beth up at work. He brings a gun along to make sure he does what she says.
Dawn tells her dad when Beth doesn’t come home. They call the police, and detectives question Beth’s boss and Tad’s wife. She tells them that he has cleaned out their savings and taken the gun but seems more concerned with her marriage than Beth’s safety. The police put out an Amber Alert.
Tad and Beth are off the grid. They discard their phones and do not use credit cards. He makes Beth change the plates on the car and calls them modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. Tad shaves his face and gives Beth glasses to change their look and thinks it is exciting that they can finally be together. Beth, however, is not.
News coverage picks up the story and makes it harder for them to hide. Tab buys a kayak and heads for the ocean. The coast guard stops them and tells them the water is too rough. The plan to kayak to Mexico goes out the window, so next, they head to a commune.
Tad becomes increasingly paranoid, and they get kicked off the commune for not pulling their weight. He asks a local gas station attendant if he can help them with a place to stay. The man sends them to a cabin that is falling apart. Tad forces Beth to have sex with him on a dirty mattress.
The following day the FBI raids the cabin and take Tad into custody. Beth is safe, but the media circus waits outside of her home. They stay for weeks and try to get a statement from the family. Ben gets law books from the library and tries to empower Beth with knowledge. He also offers to find Beth, a therapist.
The therapist talks with Beth, listens to her, and tells Beth about groomers. Beth relates to the confusion of being manipulated by someone who has made themselves the only support system in her life.
Several months later, Beth goes back to work. She faces judgment from guests at the restaurant, and a co-worker tells Beth about the comments online. They are brutal and blame Beth. (They are also mostly pious people from the church.)
Tad pleads guilty and is considering a 10-year sentence due to his good standing in the community and no prior charges. The lawyers advise Beth not to go to trial to avoid any more reputation-dragging. (It is already pretty bad; Rachel calls her a “donut-slinging whore.” through a drive-thru window.) Ben reassures Beth that the public doesn’t know what they are talking about and urges his sister to make a victim statement at Tad’s sentencing hearing.
Beth works on her statement on a laptop with stickers all over it, which is heartbreaking. She bravely goes into court and attempts to read her statement before her abuser and the rest of the court. Beth’s lawyer reads on her behalf when she is overcome with emotions. In a defiant move, Beth speaks from her heart and tells Tad she is much stronger than he thought. He will not have power over her any longer.
Tad Cummings is sentenced to 20 years in prison. Beth married in 2019 and still struggles with bullying from people who blame her for what happened. The real Elizabeth Thomas speaks in a follow-up Lifetime Documentary to tell her own story, and I appreciate her being able to speak for herself.
Side Note/Stray ThoughtsT
his movie is based on the true events of Tad Cummins, from Tennessee, who took Elizabeth Thomas on the run for 38 days in 2017. Read more about the case here.
Elizabeth Smart was a producer of the film and wants to raise awareness and give victims a voice.
Michael Fishman really surprised me here. Excellent acting in a complicated role.
Minority Report: Guidance Counselor, Tim, Rachel, Detectives, Judge,
Number of Kills: Not that kind of Lifetime Movie (0 knives)
Enjoyment Level (1-5 scale): 🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷 (5 Glasses of Wine)
Should you watch it?
Pour it up! (Give it a shot)
*Photo Credit: © 2023 Lifetime® | A+E Networks®
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