“They wanted to let me know that they’d gotten approval [from prosecutors] to move forward with arrests,” said Cummings, 66, a brother of the late Democratic congressman and civil rights leader Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland.
“Of course it feels really good to hear that,” James Cummings said. “But you have to keep in mind, it’s been a decade now. Your expectations are lowered as time goes by. And I guess I had gotten to the point where — okay, they’re saying they’re going to make these arrests, but I’m thinking, ‘Well, I’ll believe it when it happens.’ ”
Now, it has.
Norfolk police announced Thursday that four men had been charged with murder in the shooting of Christopher Cummings, 20, a nephew of the longtime Baltimore political figure, who died of unspecified health woes two years ago. Christopher Cummings was killed in the predawn hours of June 10, 2011, after armed assailants entered his home near Old Dominion University, where he was majoring in criminal justice.
With the suspects in custody, Police Chief Larry D. Boone and Detective Jon Smith again phoned James Cummings and his wife, Rosa, to tell them of the arrests. This time, the couple felt a mix of joy and weariness — a surge of “jubilation,” as James, 66, put it, but “drained of any energy, just tired, exhausted, after 10 years,” said Rosa, 65.
Authorities have not disclosed a possible motive in the case, not even to Christopher Cummings’s parents, who said they remain in the dark about why their only son, the youngest of four siblings, was killed. A roommate who was wounded said Friday that it might have been a burglary gone awry. He said he does not think he or Cummings were targeted.
A Norfolk police spokeswoman declined to comment beyond a news release, which said nothing about any new evidence or what led to a turning point in the investigation. James and Rosa Cummings said they were told by authorities that the four men have been suspects since shortly after the killing. The couple said they do not know what brought the investigation to a head.
“Every day since this happened, every single day, we have had Christopher on our minds,” Rosa Cummings said. She said her son had hoped to go to law school. “He was very popular. He had lots and lots of friends. A good student. He was super. A really easygoing guy, a very good guy. Never in any trouble ever with anyone.”
Police identified the suspects as Rashad D. Dooley, 28; Javon L. Doyle, 31; Kwaume L. Edwards, 32; and Ahmad R. Watson, 30, all of the Newport News, Va., area. Each is charged with numerous crimes, including first-degree murder.
Three years after Christopher Cummings was killed, Edwards was charged with fatally shooting a man in Hampton, Va., in a dispute over a dice game. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and is currently in a Virginia penitentiary with a 2029 parole-eligibility date, according to online prison records.
The three other men were taken into custody late Wednesday or early Thursday, and all are being held without bond. Two of them are in Norfolk-area jails, police said. It was unclear Friday whether they had entered pleas in court. Edwards, who was arrested in Baltimore, is jailed there, pending extradition to Virginia.
It could not be determined whether any of the men have attorneys. A spokesman for the commonwealth’s attorney’s office in Norfolk declined to discuss the case.
In 2011, Cummings lived with three fellow students in a two-story house on West 42nd Street in Norfolk. Two of the roommates were out of town on June 10. Cummings’s bedroom was on the second floor. His friend Jake Carey, asleep in his first-floor bedroom, was awakened a few hours before dawn by what sounded like gunshots.
“I sat up, and it was quiet for a minute,” Carey, now a 30-year-old restaurant manager, recalled Friday. “I opened my door to see if anyone was there. As I opened the door slowly, someone lunged right in front of me and out the front door. I was kind of shocked, frozen. And then I saw Chris in front me at the base of the stairs.”
He said Cummings, bleeding, was in a sitting position, his back against a wall.
“And that’s when I was shot,” Carey said. He said five small-caliber bullets pierced his neck, back, left arm and left shoulder. “I didn’t see anyone’s face,” he said. “I never was able to identify anyone even from the beginning.”
Over the years, a succession of Norfolk police chiefs and homicide investigators regularly phoned James and Rosa Cummings to let them know they had not forgotten about Christopher. Until last week, the message was always the same.
“They knew about these guys from the beginning,” said James Cummings, an IT specialist at the Pentagon. “But they didn’t have enough evidence.”
“They’d tell us they were working on it, which we were so grateful for,” he said, adding: “Normally they’d call on the anniversary of our son’s death, but also at other times during the year. That kind of kept our hopes up.”
The Aug. 4 phone call, telling the father that arrests were imminent, came after a grand jury that day issued an indictment of the men. It took a week for law enforcement agencies to coordinate a roundup in several locations, in the Hampton Roads area and in Maryland. Cummings said police told him that Watson drove to Baltimore this week to gamble in a casino, with detectives tailing him.
Carey got the same phone calls from authorities over the years and the same heads-up about the arrests. Like James and Rosa Cummings, he was thankful to the police.
He said he underwent months of often painful physical therapy during his recovery and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I never gave up hope” that the attackers would be caught, he said. “But the odds were against us, and after a couple of years, I thought if I didn’t try to move on with my life, then I never would.” He eventually returned to Old Dominion part time, and last fall he earned a bachelor’s degree in finance. Now, with the arrests, he said, “I’m starting to have flashbacks. I feel like I felt the day I got shot.”
He said he’ll cope with it.
“It’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s like a big weight has been lifted.”
Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.