Slain mother of Naval Academy plebe remembered as 'football mama'
Michelle Cummings was a "football mama," her friends said.
She stood by her son as he strove athletically and academically, guiding him from Houston to one of the most coveted placements in the nation: the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
She cheered him on from the sidelines, traveled with him to Rhode Island for a year of prep school and went to Annapolis to celebrate his induction Wednesday into the Academy as a plebe.
But hours before that moment came, a stray bullet prevented her from seeing it. Cummings, 57, was killed as she sat on the patio of a hotel on West Street in downtown Annapolis.
Annapolis Police Chief Edward Jackson said officers are pursuing leads in the case. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives offered a $20,000 reward for information.
Jackson said two people were sitting in an SUV near the hotel when the shooting occurred, with bullets striking the vehicle and Cummings. Jackson said the people sitting in the vehicle, who have been interviewed by police, were not injured.
Authorities were reviewing surveillance footage from "all over the city," Jackson said, and interviewing witnesses. He said he had spoken to Cummings's son, identified by the Naval Academy as Midshipman Candidate Leonard Cummings III, and encouraged him to continue at the school to honor his mother.
"She raised you. She nurtured you," Jackson said. "The best way to honor her legacy is go forward with your education. . . . Don't let a criminal stop you."
Cummings III could not be reached for comment. In an email Thursday, the Naval Academy's Office of Public Affairs said he had "completed his check-in process yesterday and has departed on emergency leave to tend to family affairs."
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, said Thursday he spoke with Cummings's family and "extended our heartfelt condolences for their tragic loss." The state added an additional $10,000 to the reward money, said Hogan, who pledged the support of state law enforcement agencies.
Micah Jordan, Cummings's brother, said she was "like my sister, my best friend and my mom all wrapped in one." A computer systems analyst, she raised two children while remaining active in community and church groups, he said.
"They say, 'Don't ask God why,' " he said. "But why did something like this happen to a person as nice, sweet and fun-loving as she was? It's just devastating."
As Michelle's family mourned, the Navy football community stepped up to do what it could.
Veranna Phillips, who started an online fundraising campaign for the family, said she met Michelle when her son also committed to play for Navy.
Both boys were from Texas and played offense, she said, and both attended the Naval Academy Preparatory School last year in Newport, R.I. As their families navigated the on-ramp into the academy amid the coronavirus pandemic, Phillips and Cummings stayed in touch by phone.
Phillips said Cummings's death was "a loss for me, but also a loss for the whole community of Navy football."
"It's like we all lost a saintly woman," she said. "Somebody that's genuinely good and trying to do the right thing. That was Michelle."
Erica Daniel, another family friend, said Cummings was a "supermother who never sat on the back row."
"She was one of those mothers you admire because she got all this stuff done and I still don't know — she just got the job done," she said.
Daniel and Cummings, who both attended Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, met more than two decades ago through their husbands. With sons around the same age, the couples remained close for years, vacationing together and watching their children grow. When Daniel's husband died of cancer in 2014, Cummings was there to support her.
Her son's entry into the Naval Academy was a "big milestone" for Cummings, Daniel said. Having worked hard for years to launch her son onto the right path, Daniel said, Cummings could turn that energy to her own life. Now, that life is over.
"The person you could be — your opportunity post-children — she was about to engage in that season," Daniel said. "I saw it as such a tragedy."
Jordan, Michelle's brother, said her son's oath at the academy was her chance to say, "Hey, this is what I've given the world."
She never got to see the oath, but her son can carry her legacy.
"I know his dad won't let him stop," he said. "I'm not going to let him stop ... That's the way she would want it."