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Cummings' brother starting over ; One year after abused sister's death, Overmoyer tries to overcome grief

Edward Overmoyer is trying to get his life in order.

He has a tidy new apartment and is studying for his GED. He wants someday to become a state trooper. And he finally has a sense of hope about his future.

It's all a dramatic change from the existence Overmoyer knew for much of his 26 years.

And the way Overmoyer views it, he owes his reclaimed life to his younger half-sister, Laura Cummings -- the mentally disabled woman who was murdered a year ago this weekend inside her North Collins home.

"She sacrificed her life for me," he said. "It's a sad thing that my sister had to sacrifice her life to let something good come out of it."

Laura's death stunned the community for its sheer brutality -- and for the trail of missed opportunities over the years to get her to safety. Her mistreatment, dating back to 1995, culminated with being beaten, scalded and eventually suffocated by her mother. Prosecutors also allege that another half-brother, Luke J. Wright, repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted her.

Law enforcement dubbed the small apartment at 2052 Sherman Ave. a "house of horrors."

They concluded Overmoyer, who also lived in the apartment, had nothing to do with Laura's death or the abuse she suffered over many years.

Overmoyer remains haunted by it, though. He felt guilty that he didn't do more to save his sister, and he's disappointed so few people even knew who she was.

"It's sad that nobody knows Laura. She was a loving, caring person," he said.

Overmoyer arrived home from work the evening of Jan. 21, 2010 to find a sea of emergency personnel and police officers at the apartment.

His first thought was that his mother had killed herself, not that Laura was hurt, he said.

Overmoyer wasn't aware of the extent of Laura's abuse before then because he was rarely home, he said, leaving for work early in the morning and not returning to the apartment until the evening hours.

"I was never around. I was working seven days a week," he said. "Nothing was really out of the ordinary when I got home. It was always quiet."

But living in the Sherman Avenue apartment was never easy, according to Overmoyer and other half-siblings who grew up there.

Overmoyer knew firsthand his mother's penchant for being physically and psychologically abusive.

Nearly all of her children at some point faced her wrath, he said.

Laura's disabilities seemed to make her even more of a target of Eva Cummings' rage.

At times, Overmoyer saw Laura shackled to a chair with a sheet over her head, but Eva Cummings blamed the humiliating treatment on her daughter.

"She would say she needed to be like that because her eyes would stare," he said.

At age 23, Laura had the mental capacity of a child, and she moved ponderously, despite her mother's insistence that Laura proceed at a faster pace.

"My mother liked fast and quick; get things done," Overmoyer said.

Overmoyer said he encouraged his younger sibling to do as their mother said and to "get on her best side."

Laura seemed to try.

She excitedly recruited Overmoyer in an effort to surprise Eva on her 51st birthday, New Year's Day, by cleaning the house.

"I'll do the kitchen," Overmoyer recalled Laura saying.

"Her face turned like a Happy Birthday cake, like a present," he said.

Just three weeks later, Laura was dead.

Eva was sentenced in November to more than 50 years in prison, after admitting she suffocated her daughter with her bare hands.

Wright, 32, is still awaiting trial on charges he tortured and raped his half-sister.

Overmoyer said he never witnessed Wright do anything like what he's accused of.

But beatings, violence and general hostility had been a regular part of living in the Sherman Avenue apartment for years.

Luke Wright's sister, Patricia, escaped it years ago, getting adopted by a neighbor of her grandparents.

Another sibling, Richard Cummings, refused to fork over the money he had earned doing odd jobs. He was kicked out the house, taken in by neighbors and went on to serve in the Air Force.

Overmoyer, who had dropped out of school in ninth grade, stayed in the apartment. He dutifully handed over all of his earnings as a dishwasher at a local restaurant and stall keeper for an Eden veterinarian to the household budget.

Even though Eva, Laura and Luke received enough federal Supplemental Security Income to pay for household expenses, Overmoyer feared he'd be out on the streets if he kept money for himself or spoke up about anything his mother did to Laura.

"I was too scared to do anything," he said.

Laura ran away several times, only to be found by sheriff's deputies and brought back to the house. When Eva's children were younger, Child Protective Services was alerted to potential neglect at the home.

In the summer, fall and winter of 2009, Richard Cummings became increasingly concerned about his sister and contacted Adult Protective Services on numerous occasions from his Air Force base in North Carolina.

"I look at it like, what really could I have done, when the police kept bringing [Laura] back and even Trish and I ran away [years ago] and the police brought us back?" Overmoyer said.

All of the children had learned over the years not to be forthcoming with child welfare investigators about any mistreatment in the home, he said.

Overmoyer remembers as a kid getting a "look" from Eva and his stepfather, David Cummings, who left the family in the early 1990s, whenever investigators visited the home.

"You could see how they look at you if you talk to [the investigators] and say anything, that you're going to get yours," he said.

Richard doesn't blame his half-brother for not doing more to help Laura.

"He had nowhere to go either," he said. "It's hard to even talk about anymore."

Richard Cummings, now discharged from the Air Force, is staying temporarily with Overmoyer as he waits to be enrolled in an aeronautical mechanics school in Virginia. And the siblings have bonded since the tragedy.

Overmoyer also believes that Laura remains close by, too. "She's here, always right here," he said, tapping a hand to his heart. "She ain't leaving me."

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com