Christmas 2006 offers much more hope to three young children than last Yuletide, when they were left homeless by a Portage murder.

Charles Cummings – a caretaker of the children – was shot to death Dec. 23, 2005, outside a Portage Township gun club. His wife, Deborah Cummings, 57, was arrested and will face homicide charges in March.

While the past year has been an uphill battle for the children, they have been reunited with their mother, Tonya Yost, and the family is now living in Erie.

“We’re doing OK,” Yost said from the apartment she shares with her two daughters, a son and another woman.

“I don’t think I’ll make it back to Johnstown for Christmas. But my kids will be taken care of. They have gifts that are wrapped and under the tree,” she said.

Yost also is unclear about any role she will have in the upcoming murder trial of Deborah Cummings, a woman she viewed as a mother figure and one she entrusted her children to.

“They got a letter from Deb with a homemade Christmas card. She made it in prison,” Yost said. “She treated them like they were her own grandkids.”

Deborah Cummings’ son, Shawn Sweeney, 37, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in the death of his stepfather and is expected to testify against his mom.

At the time of the murder, Yost’s children – Vanessa, now 6, Dustin, 4, and Deborah, 3 – were living in the Cummings’ Portage Township home while Yost worked in the Johnstown area.

The murder forced the children out of the home and for a week they stayed with Deborah Cummings’ daughter. They eventually ended up at the Johnstown Salvation Army, where they were given shelter for about a week.

The family was reunited shortly after the new year and Yost relocated to the Erie area to be closer to her mother.

Ira Korin of Portage, who shed light on the plight of the children, continues to be disenchanted with county and state officials, who he described as turning their backs on the youngsters.

“My concern was always for the children. I wish there would have been a better place for them, but the only place that would listen was the Salvation Army,” Korin said Friday.

Yost said two of her children continue to struggle with mental and physical problems they’ve had since birth, but is confident they are making strides.

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