As Connor Cummings steps out onto the rooftop of the Four Seasons Hotel in Times Square, the low fog resting over the horizon casts an altogether eerie shadow over the otherwise serene, yet majestic, view. His camera shutter snaps away, capturing for eternity what would ultimately be the college student’s final moments – and the resulting images paint a haunting picture of one man’s fatal climb to the top of his game.
Connor, a native of Rockaway, New Jersey, was in his second year of college and had returned home to spend the holidays with his parents and two brothers. He was only 20 years old on that fateful night in December 2015.
The sophomore was studying at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. And although he was majoring in psychology, Connor had a diverse range of interests and hobbies – one of which was photography.
On the night of his death, the day before New Year’s Eve 2015, he’d traveled into New York City in pursuit of this passion. With his brand new camera in hand, the budding photographer had hoped to capture some nighttime rooftop views over the illuminated cityscape.
In the weeks building up to December 30, Connor was spending time at home with his family. He’d just received a Canon Mark III DSLR camera for a Christmas present and was no doubt eager to test it out.
After all, Connor had already secured a photography job at his university. He was due to start next semester shooting pictures for his school, and he was understandably enthusiastic about it. “He was so excited,” his mother, Linda Cummings, told the New York Daily News in January 2016. “After the interview, he called me up and said, ‘I killed it, ma.’”
Unfortunately, however, the weather had caught up with Connor, and he was beginning to come down with a cold. In fact, in order to treat it he’d made a doctor’s appointment, which his mother attended alongside him. That trip would, tragically, be the last time that Linda saw her son.
That evening, Connor headed off into the city with his fellow photographer and friend, 18-year-old Dimitri Olivares. The duo decided to take the train, deeming the thick fog too dangerous to drive in.
When they arrived in New York City, Connor and Dimitri first journeyed towards a building slightly south of Times Square before climbing up to its roof. From there, they snapped images looking out across the city, with its tall buildings illuminated by the bright lights below.
This building, which remains unidentified, was not the pair’s final destination, however. Instead, they made their way over to the Four Seasons Hotel, a five-star luxury establishment that commands five-figure fees for its most expensive suites.
When they arrived at the hotel, Connor and Dimitri boarded the elevator, taking it as high as it would allow: the 52-story building’s top floor. They then climbed two flights of stairs in order to reach the door to the rooftop, which was unlocked.
The ambitious photographers didn’t stop there, however. Seemingly deciding that only the very highest vantage point would suffice, they scaled a 25-foot ladder that led to metal scaffolding, atop which they began shooting pictures. But tragedy was about to strike.
Caught up in the moment, Connor attempted to snap a photo of his friend, unaware that there was a second hole in the scaffolding. And, as he slowly retreated in order to get the best shot, he fell into the opening.
Connor plummeted nine stories down, falling tragically to his death. His mother’s only consolation was that “it was quick – he died right away.” The young man’s camera, meanwhile, landed on a nearby platform and was relatively unharmed.
Three thousand people would later show up to Connor’s funeral. And the Instagram account to which he posted his photos, like the one above, has since reached over 4,000 followers – twice his original aim. Connor was clearly talented at what he did, as his mom Linda affirmed to the New York Daily News. “He saw beauty in so many different things. He would have been a great photographer,” she said.
Indeed, Connor’s skill was obvious, as his final photos exemplify. Released by his mother in the months following his death, they’re a haunting – yet beautiful – account of the young photographer’s final few moments. Linda has pledged to post a new photo to Connor’s Instagram page every week until his goal of 200 pictures is met.
The dense fog that had set over the city and surrounded the brightly lit rooftops lends the photographs an eerie sense of foreboding. That’s only exacerbated by the context of the pictures, of course – and the knowledge of the events that immediately followed.
Linda also posted the photos to Connor’s Instagram account, where they were warmly received by his family and friends. One user wrote, “This is beautiful, Mrs. Cummings. Connor’s life inspired every person that ever knew him.”
Alongside Connor’s breathtaking photo looking down into Times Square, Linda poignantly wrote, “The view is best from here.” And Connor’s followers agreed, with one saying, “What a vision… Never forgotten, in our hearts.”
Connor’s mom was keen to stress that her son was not a daredevil, telling the New York Daily News, “99 percent of his thousands of photos were of people and places and landscapes. This was just a tragic accident.” Yet while Connor’s family and friends are left to grieve over what might have been, these haunting photographs at least prove to the world that the young student’s talents were already reaching fantastic heights. His life may have been cut brutally short, but his legacy lives on.