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Published: Friday, 9/17/2010

Questions haunt Cindy Sumner's family

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

For members of Cindy Sumner's family, the bright light of hope the young woman would be found safe and brought home last summer flickered out at different times.

For her aunt, Tina Rutkowski, it was on the young woman's 21st birthday, five days after she went missing on Aug. 6, 2009.

Rosemary Schumacher felt that grip of despair about two weeks after her granddaughter went missing; nobody could stay hidden without a trace for that long in an age of technology, she believed.

But for her great-aunt Debbie Sumner it was a year ago Friday, the day Miss Sumner's body was found in a darkened and vacant North Toledo warehouse, that she ultimately faced the reality that the vibrant young woman with "childlike laughter" was dead.

'Did she cry? Did she know what was happening to her? I got to know what happened to her,' says Rosemary Schumacher, grandmother of Cindy Sumner. 'You can only take it one day at a time. … You can't look back. … You can't look forward, because it can change in an instant. We learned that.' 'Did she cry? Did she know what was happening to her? I got to know what happened to her,' says Rosemary Schumacher, grandmother of Cindy Sumner. 'You can only take it one day at a time. … You can't look back. … You can't look forward, because it can change in an instant. We learned that.'
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One year after that flame of hope was officially extinguished, the family still lives with questions about the last moments of Miss Sumner's life and anger that it was a life cut short.

With a man in custody and awaiting trial for her murder, the Sumner family says that they know their journey still is far from over.

"You can only take it one day at a time," Mrs. Schumacher said. "You can't look back because it's already gone. You can't look forward because it can change in an instant. We learned that."

From the very beginning, Miss Sumner's family hoped for the best but feared the worst. With the support of friends and neighbors, the group gathered within hours of the time that the young woman was expected home but didn't show.

Cindy Sumner Cindy Sumner
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They distributed flyers. They searched the neighborhoods.

They made public pleas for her safe return. And they prayed.

But they didn't believe that the young woman, who had cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and learning disabilities, voluntarily would choose to stay away from home.

For weeks, police, her family, and the community was on the lookout for the 5-foot, 4-inch-tall woman who was last seen riding her blue-and-white Huffy mountain bike with a teddy bear and red flower attached to the handlebars. It was a tip that led officers to the warehouse at 1510 Elm St. where they found Miss Sumner's body.

"We were so hoping that it wasn't going to turn out the way it did," Mrs. Rutkowski said. "We had a birthday party for her because we didn't know. If you started to think that it's not going to happen, that she'll be found safe, then you started to believe that she wasn't coming back."

The Lucas County Coroner's Office ruled Miss Sumner's death a homicide and indicated she had suffered "blunt-force trauma to the head." Based on the condition of the body, authorities believe she was killed shortly after she disappeared.

Her suspected killer, Elhadi Robbins, was charged Feb. 2 with murder. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

The family declined to discuss the pending criminal case but acknowledged that at least one member, sometimes more, attends every Lucas County Common pleas Court appearance.

Thursday, Judge Charles Doneghy set a Sept. 23 hearing date. A trial date has not yet been scheduled.

Mrs. Schumacher said she hopes the trial will offer her what she has yet to find elsewhere: answers.

"Did she cry? Did she know what was happening to her? I got to know what happened to her," she said.

"I can't deal with not knowing what she went through," she added. "There are still so many questions. But I know there are some things that we'll probably never know or never really understand."

Miss Sumner was the only child of Timothy and Mary Sumner, both of whom declined to be interviewed. Family members said that their daughter's disappearance and death have devastated the couple.

Mr. Sumner has built a wall around himself in an attempt to always remember his daughter the way she was, his family said. He surrounds himself with teddy bears taken from the various memorials that had sprung up for Miss Sumner and dozens and dozens of her pictures.

He refuses to hear details of her death.

"He wants to keep his baby the way she was," his sister, Mrs. Rutkowski, said.

Family members said they understand that there is more heartache to come. They have lived through the weeks before her body was found and the months before an arrest was made, but now the uncertainty of awaiting a trial continues to stretch before them.

Friday, they plan to visit Miss Sumner in Toledo Memorial Park cemetery, where a gravestone is adorned with her name, an etched teddy bear, and a color picture of the young, smiling woman. There, they will lay flowers and remember her childlike laughter again, they said.

"It's been a long year for us, a very long year," Debbie Sumner said.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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