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Published: Saturday, 9/19/2009

Body is confirmed as missing woman

BY JC REINDL
AND CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Pastor Mary Lou Baumgartner of Salem Lutheran Church stands by while James Stripling, a former neighbor of the Sumner family, speaks at a vigil service for Cindy Sumner Friday. Pastor Mary Lou Baumgartner of Salem Lutheran Church stands by while James Stripling, a former neighbor of the Sumner family, speaks at a vigil service for Cindy Sumner Friday.
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The body of a woman found in a North Toledo warehouse Thursday was identified Friday night as Cindy Sumner, the 21-year-old with muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and learning disabilities who disappeared Aug. 6.

The Lucas County Coroner's Office made the determination using dental records, Deputy Coroner Diane Barnett said, and is calling the death a homicide.

Dr. Barnett said the cause of death has not been determined, but ruled out stabbing, shooting, or strangulation.

"We're treating it as a homicide," she said. "It's a very suspicious death."

Victor Raymond Johnson, 34, died of gunshot wounds. Both his body and that of Cindy Sumner were found Thursday. Victor Raymond Johnson, 34, died of gunshot wounds. Both his body and that of Cindy Sumner were found Thursday.
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Police discovered the body Thursday morning in the basement of an abandoned warehouse at 1510 Elm St. while acting on a tip from a woman who said that someone named "Sissy" liked to congregate with her and others inside.

Dr. Barnett said the forensic examination was made difficult because the body had lain in water for some time, possibly as long as four or five weeks.

The body was clad in a yellow Pennzoil T-shirt and a bathing suit top. A necklace that family members since have identified as belonging to Miss Sumner also was on the body.

An uncle, Jim Lagrange, said earlier Friday that Miss Sumner's mother, Mary Sumner, gave the necklace to her daughter and that Mrs. Sumner also owned a similar T-shirt.

"It was a necklace that Mary herself had given to Cindy," Mr. Lagrange said.

The yellow shirt and bathing suit top are different from the clothing that Miss Sumner's family has said they last saw her in.

The day she disappeared, she wore jeans shorts and a shirt that said "Friendly Center" on the front and "STAFF" on the back.

Her disappearance led to days and weeks of searching by authorities and community members. The family offered a $1,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts.

A cousin, Carol Thompson, 41, recalled yesterday how for weeks she assumed Miss Sumner had just run away.

"That's what I kept saying, 'She just left town,'•" Ms. Thompson said.

"She always was talking about going to Florida, and that's what I told her mom - 'She's in Florida where the warm weather is.'•"

Even before announcements from police and the Coroner's Office last night, many of Miss Sumner's loved ones believed that the warehouse discovery all but confirmed their worst fears.

Family and friends of Miss Sumner gathered inside North Toledo's Salem Lutheran Church during the late afternoon Friday to mourn the passing of an outgoing, beloved, and innocent young woman.

"Today we know that our best efforts to protect her didn't work," Pastor Mary Lou Baumgartner prayed during a tearful service that drew about 70 people.

Neighborhood resident Jill Lowry, 42, shared how painful it was to no longer see Miss Sumner riding around on her bike.

"I'm looking around and all I see is sad faces and tears," she told the church audience.

"Cindy had all the innocence of a child."

"It's a shame that somebody has to do this to a girl like Cindy who doesn't do anything wrong," another neighbor, Larry McKnight, said.

Outside the service, Lisa Mullins, 14, a best friend, recalled how she saw Miss Sumner the afternoon she disappeared.

She said Miss Sumner was in almost constant contact with her mother by cell phone, and she never knew of her to wander near the warehouse where police found her body.

"I'd never seen her go near that building," Lisa said.

Dr. Barnett said the Coroner's Office plans to perform an anthropological evaluation, which would examine the body's skeletal structure.

Also Friday, Lucas County Deputy Coroner Cynthia Beisser said preliminary autopsy results indicate Victor Raymond Johnson, 34, whose body was located by police Thursday morning in the backyard of an Old West End residence, died of multiple gunshot wounds, mostly to the torso and right arm.

Dr. Beisser declined to say the number of bullets involved so as not to compromise the police investigation.

Mr. Johnson's body was found at 2413 Hollywood Ave. shortly before Miss Sumner's body was located inside the old warehouse on Elm Street in North Toledo.

The discoveries brought Toledo's homicide total to 19 for the year, or one fewer than all of 2008.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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