Laura Lynn Cummings, the North Collins woman with developmental challenges who was tortured and killed at the hands of her mother and a brother, was finally laid to rest on a beautiful, sunny day Tuesday, six years after her horrific death.
Laura's other siblings, including sisters Krystal and Patricia, and brothers Edward Overmoyer and Richard, sat in chairs under a blue tent for the brief memorial service. Richard held his son on his lap.
About three dozen friends and family gathered around the grave at Holy Spirit Church Cemetery, a quaint, rural cemetery at the intersection of two country roads. Her siblings released balloons, and those gathered blew bubbles into the wind, something Laura, a 23-year-old with the comprehension of an 8-year-old, would have enjoyed. She also would have liked the doves being released in her honor.
"After six-and-a-half years, it’s finally time to lay Laura to peaceful rest," said Krystal Cummings, who was a teenager when her sister was killed.
Laura was cremated, but the family did not have the means to bury her until Tuesday.
"We know that Laura went through some trying times," said the Rev. Edward Darling, pastor of Center Road Baptist Church in West Seneca, "but our God, in love, said it’s time to come to a perfect place."
Laura Cummings' family watches balloons fly after her burial in N Collins. Laura was killed by her mother in 2010. pic.twitter.com/9kzn8CYWM6
— Barbara O'Brien (@bobrienBN) July 19, 2016
The cemetery is not far from where the young woman with mental and physical challenges lived a tortured life, and died at the hands of her mother and half brother after enduring years of physical abuse. They are serving long prison terms in connection with the abuse and her murder in 2010.
Eva Cummings, was sentenced in 2010 to 52 years in prison for brutalizing and killing her daughter. Her son, Luke J. Wright, was sentenced in 2011 to 40 years in prison after a jury found Wright guilty of rape, sodomy and assault in connection with the attacks on his half sister.
Laura Cummings’ estate sued Erie County in December 2010, alleging that the county was negligent for failing to protect her from mental, physical and sexual abuse by her mother and her half brother as far back as 1995. The suit is still pending.
“We continue to seek justice for Laura," said attorney John Loss. "With her life gone, justice is all that remains.”
The county's Adult Protective Services unit used to operate under the Senior Services Department. The year after Cummings death it was transferred to the Social Services Department, so child protective and adult protective services workers would be in the same department, improving communication between the two groups, a spokesman for County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said.
Laura’s death and the abuse she endured throughout her life shocked the community, and devastated her remaining siblings, who also had been abused. It has taken time for them to heal emotionally.
The memorial service provided closure, said John M. Stevens. He had called Social Services to report the abuse several times, he said. And as town justice, he arraigned Eva Cummings and Wright.
"It's closure for the family, also closure for the community. That’s important," he said. "They need this, all the siblings needed this bad."
The burial came about thanks to the kindness of friends and strangers.
“It’s certainly the most important for Laura,” said Suzanne McKenney, who helped raise money for a memorial to Laura and all victims of domestic and child abuse. The marker at the cemetery was donated, and the lot was sold at a reduced price, she said.
“There have been many people who contributed to the Loving Laura project,” McKenney said. “It’s a nice tribute to this girl who certainly didn’t have in life what she deserved.”
The Loving Laura project went to the community to raise money to honor Laura’s life. Supporters are planning an “Angel of Hope” memorial to stand as a symbol of hope for all who have lost a child, and a symbol for justice against child abuse and domestic violence.
“Though the community could not hear Laura’s cries for help when she was alive, Loving Laura provides for her, in death, a strong voice that speaks out with a bold statement against the atrocities waged against a beautiful, innocent girl,” The Loving Laura website says.
Laura’s family hopes she can be an inspiration to others who have suffered from child abuse and domestic violence.
Laura’s youngest sister, Krystal Cummings, said last fall that she thinks of her sister all the time. Krystal later was working as a hair stylist, which is how she met McKenney, one of her customers.
McKenney, who is president of the Character Council of Western New York, suggested raising money for the grave and the angel statue, made famous in the novel “The Christmas Box.” A similar monument was dedicated in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1994, and there are “angel of hope” statues throughout the world.
The Angel of Hope statue has not yet been made, and funds are still being collected for it. More than $20,000 has been raised for the large Angel of Hope statue, McKenney said. It’s not known where the statue would go, but the family would like it to go in a public place, where it can serve as an inspiration to others, McKenney said. A small container of Laura's ashes will be interred in the statue when it is erected.
And Laura will always be close to her siblings. Her two sisters and one brother were presented with small pendents with her ashes, and Richard Cummings was given a small container.
"Many times in life we go through things that we don’t necessarily understand," Darling said. "There is a hello after goodbye. We have some promises in the word of God that we will see our loved ones again."