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Laura's voice will continue to haunt us

Her voice shouts to us from the grave. It shouted through a downtown courtroom in recent weeks, in the trial of her half brother Luke Wright. It resounded through a horrified community. It was so loud, and the details of what she tried to tell us so horrific, that many of us could not stand to listen.

Laura Cummings. Sweet-faced victim. Twenty-three years old, but mentally and emotionally like an 8-year-old. She should have been taken from her nightmarish, abusive home and placed with people who loved her.

Instead, 15 years of torment went unchecked. At least a half-dozen calls for help in her final year, when the abuse reached frenzied levels, went unheeded. Laura was suffocated and scalded to death in her North Collins home in January 2010. Homicidal mother Eva Cummings -- who hated Laura for her disability -- is in jail for life. The sadistic Wright was convicted Wednesday of all 10 felony counts involving Laura's abuse.

Let me state the obvious: Laura Cummings is dead because in ways large and small, a lot of people failed her. At least some of those whose job it was to help her should -- and will -- have to answer for the horrendous way that she lived, and died.

"If [people in authority] had done their jobs and followed their obligations under the law," said attorney Terry Connors, "they could have saved her life."

Connors is suing the county on behalf of Laura Cummings's estate. He soon will have in his hands a stack of documents that name names, that show when red flags were -- or were not -- raised. As many as 10 Social Services officials -- mainly in Adult Protective Services -- will explain under oath why Laura Cummings was not helped. In the name of accountability, and for the sake of all of the Laura Cummingses to come, it needs to happen.

We are an enlightened society. We are supposed to protect the vulnerable. Yes, people make mistakes. The safety net is full of holes. But to my mind, a perfect storm of denial, ineptitude and irresponsibility mark the trail to Laura Cummings' grave.

Despite at least a half-dozen complaints to Social Services in the last year of Laura's life, an Adult Protective Services worker never entered the house of horrors on Sherman Avenue. Astoundingly, child protection workers did not pass along complaints they got on Laura to their adult protection colleagues.

"Child Protection Services claim they did not have jurisdiction [because Laura was not a child]," said Connors, "so they could not share information with Adult Protection Services."

Despite several complaints delivered by a sitting judge, North Collins Justice John Stevens, the most that Social Services did was talk to the twisted Eva Cummings on the telephone. Meanwhile, Laura was being cut, punched and forced to sleep while chained to a chair. She was sexually abused by her half brother and violated with a broom handle.

"Social Services said they couldn't go inside the house without a warrant," Connors said. "It was available to them. One of the complainants is a judge. How much more credibility do you need?"

A protection worker should have at least spoken to Laura, without her mother being there. It never happened. More than once, the desperate woman ran away. Sheriff's deputies returned her to the horror house, without sounding an alarm.

There were a litany of warnings ignored, chances missed, balls officially dropped. It is both heartbreaking and infuriating. Through it all, no one who could save her heard Laura's desperate, tormented voice.

We hear her voice now. It follows us. It haunts us. It will not leave us alone.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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