Nick Cumer, Dayton shooting victim from Western Pa., was ‘someone we all could look up to’ |
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Natasha Lindstrom

Nick Cumer spent many long days and nights at Washington High School polishing his craft on the trombone.

But, when he enrolled as a freshman at Saint Francis University, Cumer was told that the Cambria County school’s newly forming band had enough trombone players. What they needed was someone who played the tuba.

Without griping or hesitating, Cumer volunteered.

“If the band needs a tuba player, I’ll do it,” Cumer told the university band program’s director, Dan Atwood, when he joined the university’s inaugural band that day roughly seven years ago.

“That just speaks to his mentality and his approach to others — Nick was all about doing what he could to better the group,” Atwood recalled by phone Monday afternoon — a day after a gunman opened fire outside a crowded Dayton bar and took the lives of nine people, including Cumer’s.

RELATED: Hate ruled out, but motive still a mystery in Dayton attack

Cumer was 25.

Those who knew him flocked to each other and social media to offer support and share condolences and memories once they learned Cumer was among victims who died in one of two mass shootings over the weekend. The death toll for Saturday’s mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, has climbed to 22 people, with dozens of others seriously injured in both incidents.

“It was almost surreal,” said Atwood of learning of Cumer’s death. Atwood, director of university bands as well as the college’s Center for Fine Arts, has known Cumer since 2012 and supervised him in various leadership roles.

“You see these shootings that occur on TV, these mass shootings that occur all over the country, and, as everyone says, you don’t think it’s going to affect you or hit you. This hits close to home; it came knocking on our door that morning.”

‘A friend you could rely on’

Messages in public forums show Cumer garnered admiration from his fraternity brothers and classmates, gratitude from recovering cancer patients, respect from school officials and adoration from his family, who said through a spokesperson they were too distraught to comment.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, Cumer enrolled in Saint Francis’ graduate program to pursue a master’s degree in cancer care.

Just last week, Cumer found out that an internship with the Dayton-based Maple Tree Cancer Alliance had blossomed into an offer for a full-time job.

He had one more week to go to as an intern, then would prepare to run one of the newest offices of Maple Tree, whose nonprofit mission is to help people with cancer through nutrition, exercise and faith.

Cumer told Atwood how excited he was about landing the position, according to Atwood.

Maple Tree officials decided to close their offices all week and reopen Aug. 12 to allow staff the time to grieve and process the tragedy.

Cumer also was active in the university’s Greek life.

His fraternity brothers started an online fundraiser at to raise money to help his family cover funeral costs. About 250 donors had contributed nearly $10,000 by Monday night.

Like Atwood, current and former fraternity and sorority members recalled Cumer’s positive energy and infectious smile.

“Nicholas Cumer was a man that we all could look up to and count on,” wrote the fundraising page’s organizer, Nick Johnson. “Nicholas had the personality and smile that would shine brighter than the hardest times. He was a friend you could rely on with unmatched compassion and support. Nick has left an impact on every life he came in contact with and will always be in our hearts.”

‘A loving and caring spirit’

Cumer was one of three trainers who worked at Maple Tree who were shot during the mass shooting in the Dayton’s historic Oregon district.

“While two are expected to make a full recovery, we are absolutely heartbroken to report that the third, Nicholas Cumer, was killed in this senseless act of violence,” Maple Tree officials wrote on Facebook.

RELATED: Pennsylvania officials, clergy react to shootings in Ohio, Texas

Cumer’s supervisors said they will remember him “for his hard work and dedication.”

“He loved his patients and served them well, with a loving and caring spirit,” Maple Tree officials wrote. “He continuously went above and beyond our expectations and worked with a high level of excellence. He was well-liked and respected by everyone on our team.”

In his free time, Cumer enjoyed working out at the gym.

Facebook commenter Trish Schommer said Cumer helped to train her.

“He was so kind, understanding and helpful,” Schommer posted to Facebook. “My heart breaks with many others today. Loving thoughts to his family.”

Lisa Kay wrote that her daughter was trained by Cumer: “He encouraged her, he made her laugh and go beyond her self-imposed limits,” Kay posted to Facebook. “The world has truly lost a star.”

St. Francis University’s president, the Rev. Malachi Van Tassell, said Cumer was among students recognized at a community engagement awards ceremony earlier this year for completing more than 100 hours of service.

“Nicholas was dedicated to caring for others,” Tassell said in a statement. “We join the nation in mourning Nicholas, alongside all of the victims of this tragedy.”

As graduate assistant for the university’s band, Cumer had both administrative and hands-on duties. He kept track of potential recruits, instructed groups on marching techniques and led ensemble music rehearsals, Atwood said.

Atwood had been keeping in touch with Cumer lately via text messages, with the dry-witted Cumer often teasing Atwood about his corny “dad” jokes.

“His sense of humor is something that I will always remember — and just his ability to connect with people of every background,” Atwood said. “He was always upbeat.”

The campus has planned a special Mass on Tuesday evening in honor of Cumer. A separate Mass is planned later in the week for grieving university band members and alumni.

Saint Francis’ next session of band camp starts Friday, and a tribute to Cumer will be an important piece of the agenda, Atwood said.

“The program would not be here where it is today without his commitment and his contributions to us,” Atwood said. “We were in Nick’s life for a short time, and it’s affecting all of us this deeply. I just cannot imagine what the family is going through at this point.”

In a statement, Cumer’s family asked for privacy.

“We are heartbroken at the loss of our Nicholas in this senseless act,” the family’s brief statement said.

Police investigate possible motives

The chaos broke out shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday in Dayton’s historic Oregon District.

Police say the gunman was wearing a mask and body armor when he shot and killed his younger sister and eight others after the pair had arrived together with a friend earlier Saturday evening at a popular entertainment district packed with people.

It all happened within 30 seconds, before police officers stationed nearby shot and killed 24-year-old Connor Betts, who was armed with a .223-caliber rifle with magazines capable of holding at least 100 rounds of ammunition, said Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl.

What is not known is whether Betts targeted any of the victims, including his 22-year-old sister, Megan, the youngest of the dead.

Authorities identified the other dead as Monica Brickhouse, 39; Derrick Fudge, 57; Thomas McNichols, 25; Lois Oglesby, 27; Saeed Saleh, 38; Logan Turner, 30; and Beatrice N. Warren-Curtis, 36.

While the gunman was white and six of the nine killed were black, police said the quickness of the rampage made any discrimination in the shooting seem unlikely.

Any attempt to suggest a motive so early in the investigation would be irresponsible, Biehl said.

Police have said there was nothing in Betts’ background that would have prevented him from buying the rifle used in the shooting. They said they also found a shotgun in his car.

The Dayton shooting happened a day after a 21-year-old man opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and a week after a shooting during a festival in Gilroy, Calif.

Sunday’s shooting in Dayton is the 22nd mass killing of 2019 in the U.S., according to the AP/USA Today/Northeastern University mass murder database that tracks homicides where four or more people were killed — not including the offender. The 20 mass killings in the U.S. in 2019 that preceded this weekend claimed 96 lives.

RELATED: Pittsburgh has stepped up security for large events, festivals in wake of mass shootings

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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