Laura Lynn Cummings could not have dreamed that her tortured life would become a symbol of hope for others, but the young woman who loved to smile would surely love the Angel of Hope sculpture that stands in Forest Lawn.
Laura was 23, with the comprehension of an 8-year-old, when she died in 2010 at the hands of her mother and half-brother, after being abused for years at their flat in North Collins. The death shocked the community, and devastated her remaining siblings, who also had been abused.
The community later came together to raise money for the Loving Laura Project. The first phase was accomplished two years ago, when Laura's ashes were laid to rest in a peaceful rural cemetery in North Collins. The family had not had the means for a proper burial or memorial.
The second phase ends – and a new chapter begins – Thursday. The bronze statue of an angel with wings spread and outstretched arms will be dedicated in memory of Laura at 4:30 p.m. Thursday behind the Forest Lawn chapel on land that was donated by the cemetery. The public is invited to the chapel for remarks and a candlelight ceremony.
There are inscriptions on all four sides of the granite base, which was designed and placed by Stone Art Memorial. It sits in the middle of a teardrop-shaped piece of land with a new roadway around it. And under the angel's right wing is the word, Hope.
"This road leads you to there. It's not obvious, not along the road with a big sign," said Joseph P. Dispenza, president of Forest Lawn. "And when you find her, you'll remember Laura Lynn Cummings."
It is the goal that the Angel of Hope memorial will stand as a symbol of hope for all those who have lost a child for any reason, as well as a symbol against child abuse and domestic violence.
"I never imagined it would actually be at such a prominent place," said Suzanne McKenney, a friend of one of Laura's sisters who organized the fundraising efforts. She said the memorial implores people not to ignore signs of abuse.
"This is going to last long after we’re all gone," she said.
Author Richard Paul Evans introduced the Angel of Hope in the book "The Christmas Box" in 1993. In the book, a woman suffers the loss of her child, and grieves at the base of an angel monument. After the book gained acclaim, grieving parents sought out the statue, which was based on an actual monument. Evans commissioned a new statue, and it was dedicated on Dec. 6, the date of the death of the child in the book. Since then, Angel of Hope statues have been dedicated throughout the United States, Canada and Japan.
Buffalo's is the 146th Angel of Hope statue to be erected. There will be a candlelight vigil at many of them on Thursday.
The statue is in line with the cemetery's message of remembering, said Mark DePalma of Forest Lawn.
"The case was such a tragic one," he said.
Laura, a developmentally disabled woman who was 4-foot-10 and weighed 101 pounds, was suffocated and died after being beaten, sexually brutalized, scalded with hot water and tied to a chair with a hood over her head. Her mother, Eva Cummings, received 52 years to life for abusing and killing her, and Laura's half-brother, Luke J. Wright, a mildly mentally disabled man, was sentenced to 40 years to life for assaulting and raping her.
But with the help of donations from more than 250 people and groups, some as low as $5, up to thousands of dollars, her family and friends hope Laura's life will be remembered by giving her the voice in death she did not have in life. The cost of the memorial is about $44,000, and about $10,000 in donations still are needed, and can be made to the Loving Laura Project GoFundMe page, McKenney said.
The memorial represents hope, healing and peace, and a call to action for everyone to be aware of the people and circumstances around them, Dispenza said.
"It's about Laura. It's about silence, when perhaps one has to challenge themselves not to remain silent if there are suspicions or concerns," he said. "It's as much a tribute as a call to action."
Story topics: Instagram