Robert Cunningham‘s black dog, Duke, whined mournfully and pulled on his leash, trying to reach the casket where his master lay. He seemed to be channeling the emotions of the assembled, gathered at Historic Congressional Cemetery Feb. 14 to lay Robert Cunningham to rest.
Cunningham, 64, died a hero on Feb. 1 when he intervened to protect a young woman from a man who had already shot two other people. The man shot and killed Cunningham.
A procession drove Cunningham’s body from the funeral service in Silver Spring to the cemetery. It included Metro police officers on motorcycle and three Metro buses displaying his photo. The procession passed by the Potomac Avenue Metrorail Station where the shooting occurred en route to Congressional.
At the grave side, Deacon Patrick Brown said that Cunningham had made the greatest sacrifice possible. Brown asked family and friends to check in on the Cunningham family once a month for at least the next two years, noting the significance of the date of Cunningham‘s funeral. It is fitting that Cunningham was laid to rest on Valentine’s Day, he said, “because Robert was so full of love.”
It was love, Brown said, that motivated Cunningham to intervene that February day.
Funeral services were attended by Mayor Muriel Bowser, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) and WMATA General Manager Randy Clarke. But it was the ranks of the fellow employees that were the true honor guard. Metro Transit Police Department officers in full uniform served as pallbearers and stood graveside. Other attendees wore Metro uniforms and vests; many wore buttons imprinted with a lighting bolt and number 1741, Cunningham’s radio “call number”.
A 20-year Metro employee in the power department, Cunningham was a member of Amalgamated Transit Union 689. A fellow employee spoke at the graveside service, saying that Cunningham would speak often of his wife and children. “He always said that he was here on this earth for you all, cause he loved you all,” the colleague said.
Jackie Spainhour, President of Congressional Cemetery, entreated those assembled to remember Cunningham for his life, noting that he was more than the way he died.
Cunningham leaves behind a wife and four children. Cunningham‘s youngest son, still in his teens, read a farewell letter he had written to his father at the graveside. He wrote that he was sorry about that they would not get to spend more time together. “I wish you were the last person that had to die wrongfully as the victim of the senseless violence that plagues this earth,” he concluded.
As Cunningham’s body was about to be lowered into the earth, the young family tearfully gathered at graveside, arms wrapped around one another, to pray.
“He is a hero,” said a neighborhood resident identifying herself as Carol. She stood outside the cemetery gates with her own dog as the procession entered. “How do you know that you’d really come forward in that moment? Not one of us really does.”