When news of James Cummings’ death was delivered to the family of Amber Cummings, her relatives say their first reaction was elation at the fact that she was alive.

“We lost touch with Amber for 10 years, it was like she just disappeared,” said Jenny Shattuck, who is Amber Cummings’ cousin. Shattuck and Cummings were raised together, and Shattuck said they were best friends while growing up in California.

Shattuck said, looking back on that day, she remembered that it didn’t register that Cummings had just killed her husband.

“We thought he had taken her away somewhere and killed her,” said Shattuck, who was surrounded by Cummings’ supporters donning stickers and T-shirts that read “Free Amber.” “We were just so glad to hear she was alive.”

Shattuck and another of Cummings’ cousins, Chari Jopes, were among several of Cummings’ relatives who flew to Maine from the West Coast to support Cummings at her sentencing Jan.7 at Waldo County Superior Court.

At the hearing, Justice Jeffrey Hjelm sentenced Cummings to prison for eight years with the full sentence suspended, and ordered Cummings to serve six years’ probation in connection with the shooting death of her husband in Dec. 2008. In November, Cummings pleaded guilty to manslaughter and as part of the plea agreement, she was to serve an eight-year prison sentence with at least seven years suspended and six years’ probation.

Thursday, Hjelm ruled that Cummings’ prison sentence would be fully suspended. Aside from the requirement that Cummings adhere to the conditions of her probation, which include that she and her daughter continue with psychological counseling and that Cummings refrain from leaving the state without permission from her probation officer, she walked away from the Waldo County Superior Courthouse a free woman.

When the judge gave his ruling, Shattuck, Jopes and several others in the courtroom were visibly moved by his decision; some wept through apparent sighs of relief, while others applauded and told Cummings they loved her.

Shattuck spoke to the Journal prior to the sentencing hearing, and expressed gratitude and amazement at the number of people who came to the hearing to support her cousin, some of whom did not know Cummings before the death of James Cummings.

“Everyone here loves [Amber Cummings]. We’ve had total strangers come to us and tell us how awesome she is,” said Shattuck. “And she loves it here.”

Shattuck said when she flew to Maine from California Dec. 14, 2008, to take custody of Cummings and her daughter, that was the first time she had seen her cousin in a decade.

“The day they got married was the last time I saw her,” recalled Shattuck. She added that Amber Cummings passed out on her wedding day, which turned out to be one of many indicators that something was not right about her cousin’s new marriage. Shattuck also said that even then James Cummings exhibited controlling behavior, noting that very few of Amber Cummings’ relatives were permitted to attend the wedding.

Shattuck said she introduced her cousin to James Cummings shortly after the shooting death of his father, who was a businessman in Fort Bragg, Calif. Back then, James Cummings was 18 and was living in his father’s home alone.

Shattuck said she became friends with James Cummings, and visited him at his home occasionally. She remembered that he struck her as a bit strange back then, as he had surveillance cameras in every room of the home, and that he often possessed pornography of an odd nature, such as images depicting bestiality.

But, Shattuck said, she chalked the cameras up to James Cummings’ being paranoid because of his father’s murder — the father was shot and killed at his home not long before she met James. The odd pornography, Shattuck thought, indicated no more than a young man with little sexual experience who was curious.

“He was home-schooled, and he had never really been out in society,” recalled Shattuck.

Shattuck remained friends with James Cummings for a few months, and one day she stopped by his house to borrow an item. She happened to have her cousin Amber with her.

Shattuck said a short time later, she moved out of town for about a year.

“When I came back, they were together,” she said.

Shattuck said at the time she had some reservations about her cousin’s new relationship, largely due to comments James Cummings had made to Shattuck in the past that struck her as odd, and were so unreal in nature that she thought he might have been joking.

Shattuck recalled one occasion when James Cummings apparently offered her a large sum of money from his trust fund in exchange for her producing a child for him.

“I was 19, so I was like, no way,” she said.

Later, Shattuck learned that a stipulation of the trust was that James Cummings would get more money in his monthly distribution if he was married and had a child.

“Amber always said she just wanted a family that she could raise,” said Shattuck. “That was his in.”

Shattuck disclosed another fact that came out later during the sentencing hearing, which was that Amber Cummings suffered sexual abuse as a child. Shattuck said she thinks that caused her cousin to be very insecure as a young woman, and that James Cummings used her emotional pain from those experiences to manipulate her.

“She wouldn’t say no to anyone,” said Shattuck.

After the Cummingses were married, Shattuck said she did not see her cousin, and she only heard from her briefly in the fall of 1999, when Amber Cummings’ daughter was born.

“She was so happy, and she said she didn’t know she could love that much,” said Shattuck.

But the phone conversation was short-lived. Shattuck said Amber Cummings hung up the phone when James Cummings apparently entered the room screaming at her, saying that her family was not supposed to know of their daughter’s birth.

It was only when she saw her cousin again in the winter of 2008 that Shattuck learned the extent of what Amber Cummings and her daughter had endured at the hands of James Cummings.

“He burned all of her family pictures,” said Shattuck. Furniture and quilts from her grandmother were also burned, as was anything that Amber Cummings had that reminded her of her former life in California.

Shattuck said their grandmother, who practically raised Amber Cummings, passed away some time later, but James Cummings would not permit his wife to attend the funeral service.

The High Street home they shared was more like a shrine to Adolph Hitler than it was a family dwelling. Shattuck said there were no family photos on the walls, and no toys could be found. Flags with swastikas, photos of Hitler and various Nazi paraphernalia were prominently displayed throughout the home.

Their daughter was never permitted to attend public schools, or to see a doctor, Shattuck said, and James Cummings apparently went out of his way to impose his beliefs on his daughter. Shattuck said on one occasion, she and the child were leaving a hotel lobby, and after encountering an African-American man, the child backed into a corner and began hyperventilating.

When Shattuck asked the girl what was wrong, she said her father taught her that African-Americans are digitally imaged by Jewish people so they can walk and talk like white people. The child added that President Barack Obama can walk and talk independently only because he is part-white.

The youth was never allowed to show emotion, Shattuck said, because her father taught the child that she would one day take his place as one of Hitler’s soldiers. Shattuck said things children often look forward to, like Christmas, were never permitted in the Cummings household, and the girl had to be taught how to have snowball fights and play games after her father’s death.

And the stories about what went on in the Cummings family only got worse from there, said Shattuck.

Amber Cummings once told her cousin about what happened after their marriage, when the two left California in a recreational vehicle. Shattuck said James Cummings forced his wife to drive all over the country for months, and all the while, the man would comment about young girls they would see along the way.

“He would say things like, ‘Oh, that little girl looks like you, let’s rape her and kill her,’ ” remembered Shattuck.

Shattuck said her cousin willingly took the physical and sexual abuse from her husband because she was trying to keep him away from their daughter.

In fact, Shattuck said, everything Amber Cummings has done has been for her daughter.

“She pled guilty so [her daughter] would not have to testify,” said Shattuck.

The next time Amber Cummings’ relatives saw her again was after the shooting. Shattuck remembers that she barely recognized the woman she grew up with all those years ago.

“She was wearing his clothes, and she just looked like a zombie,” she said.

Both Shattuck and Jopes said because of the abuse Amber Cummings endured, the woman they had come to support Thursday was not the same woman they remember from their childhoods. Despite that, they are pleased to have her back in their lives and are looking forward to helping Amber Cummings and her daughter heal.

These days, Amber Cummings is enjoying getting to know her neighbors, and her daughter is now in school and making friends.

After her sentencing Thursday, Cummings told the media that she would “never give up” on the work she needs to do to make sure her daughter will have a healthy, normal childhood from here on out.

Shattuck and Jopes hope to help the mother and daughter continue in their recovery, and are still ecstatic about having the chance to welcome both back into their family.

“It’s like heaven,” said Shattuck.

“It’s like a dream; we can’t believe it,” said Jopes.