Joshua Cummings: What we know about the RTD murder suspect’s life in his Texas hometown

A memorial for RTD security guard Scott Von Lanken near Union Station, Feb. 1, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Ryan Neville places flowers at a memorial for RTD security guard Scott Von Lankin near Union Station, Feb. 1, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) union station; scott von lankin; memorial; denverite; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty;
Ryan Neville places flowers at a memorial for RTD security guard Scott Von Lanken near Union Station, Feb. 1, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A 37-year-old man is accused of murdering a security guard in cold blood outside Union Station.

Our reporting on Joshua Andrew Cummings from social media profiles, interviews with people in his hometown and newspaper reports on his prior life results in a picture of a white man who left his hometown of Pampa, Texas, after making a public display of his adopted religion in recent months.

That’s more complicated than the early, anonymously sourced reports — eagerly retweeted around the internet — that suggested a religious motivation for the shooting.

The 37-year-old had rented a space in a building on Kentucky Avenue in Pampa for less than a year. Things had seemed to be going well — Cummings had carefully painted “AUTHENTIC BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU” on the building’s side and had drawn sizable classes of kids and adults to the studio.

The martial artist, his wife and their infant child all were living in a spacious room at the back of the studio, according to landlord Jack Eddins. Cummings had saved money from his job as an oil landman, even living in an abandoned railcar to make this dream happen, Eddins said.

Cummings described himself on a social-media profile as a “Jiu-Jitsuka on the hunt for knowledge of spirit, mind, and body.” He worked his way up from a community college scholarship to an undergraduate education in German literature and political science at Southwestern University, according to a LinkedIn profile. He previously served as an infantry sergeant with the U.S. Army, according to one of his business websites.

On a dating site, he previously described himself as “politically CONSERVATIVE,” ambitious and driven, adding that his family “says that I am a great son.” He has practiced martial arts since he was a toddler, he told his clients.

To his landlord, Cummings was quiet and well-mannered. “At first, he never said anything,” Eddins said. But as the months passed, rumors started to pass around town.

“I’m aware that some people had said that he was going around to churches and saying they needed to teach the Quran,” Eddins said, referring to the Muslim holy text.

Cummings’ beard grew longer throughout the year, as documented on his Instagram account, and he quickly became the talk of the town. He seemed to become more outspoken both in person and on social media, posting in July that a former Arizona cop “should be put to death for treason” following a civil-rights incident.

Cummings appears to have developed a reputation in his home town. One Pampa resident, reached by phone, instantly identified Cummings as “the radical Muslim,” despite the fact that they’d never met.

Troy Schwiegerath, the owner of another martial-arts studio in Pampa, reportedly hired an armed guard because he feared Cummings had become so “radicalized … that he was going to come into the dojo and shoot it up,” as he told The Denver Post.

TV news stations in Denver have begun to report, based on anonymous sourcing, that he had “Muslim documents” with him at the time of his arrest, but police have not indicated any possible motives in the crime. None of the stations have said what those documents might be, and Denver police have refused to confirm the accounts or deny them.

“At this time, the department is not releasing additional information regarding this ongoing homicide investigation,” spokesman Doug Schepman said in an email.

Joshua A. Cummings (Denver Police Department)
Joshua A. Cummings (Denver Police Department)
It’s unclear why Cummings left Pampa.

There’s talk that he was essentially driven out of town following incidents at one or more churches, but I couldn’t get anyone to confirm that on the record. All Eddins knew was that Cummings left suddenly for the Dallas area, perhaps around August.

“He said he was leaving Pampa,” Eddins said. It appears that Cummings attempted to establish another martial arts studio in Irving, Texas, advertising this one as الكهف, or The Cave.

Over the next few months, his wife seemed to become increasingly open about their adopted religion on social media. “I wasnt born into a muslim family. I wasn’t raised with all of the truth. And it feels like the more I learn, the harder life in this world becomes,” she wrote.

It’s also not clear when or why Cummings came to Denver. Police described him as a resident of the area and said he had not had any run-ins with Denver police prior to his arrest on Tuesday night.

Gary Kim, the manager of the Holiday Motel in the Denver suburb of Englewood, told the Associated Press that Cummings had been staying there for about three weeks.

Cummings previously stayed for about a month at the $365-a-week motel before leaving in late November. He then returned in early January.

“I’m just pretty blown away. … He was one of my favorite tenants. I enjoyed seeing him,” Kim said.

The motel manager said he didn’t know what Cummings did for a living, but he would often volunteer to help people pay their rent.

Kim added that Cummings “kinda looked like a hippy” and had a full beard. He stayed at the hotel with a woman and a child, and Kim said he never noticed anything out of the ordinary.

The most we know about the crime is this:

Cummings is accused of approaching Scott Von Lanken, a uniformed security guard, and shooting him from behind.

Witnesses told police that the suspected killer said, “Do what you are told” before firing a handgun into the man’s neck or head.

Shellie Von Lanken told 9News that her husband of 35 years worked at least 65 hours a week to support her and their 32-year-old twin daughters, one of whom is disabled.

“It was unbelievable that any human being could even work what he was working,” she said. “He just worked his heart out. He would tell me, ‘If I could keep working, I would get another job just so I could provide for my family.'”

She said that her husband would want her and their daughters to forgive the shooter.

RTD Transit Police and Allied Universal, Von Lanken’s employer, have set up a memorial fund to help support his wife and two children through the Rocky Mountain Law Enforcement Credit Union under Scott Von Lanken’s name. You can make donations online or call 303-458-6660.

Erica Meltzer contributed to this article.

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.