State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico recounted Friday a story about Trooper David Cunniff, one of the many told in the days after Cunniff’s death this week on the New York State Thruway.
It was the story of a proud Cunniff, wearing his new gray trooper uniform for the first time for his wife some nine years ago.
At the sight of her husband in that uniform, D’Amico recounted, Amy Cunniff was overcome with emotion.
Widow’s words tell of husband’s love
When David Cunniff was in the New York State Police Academy, he and his wife, Amy, had precious little time together — those attending the academy are allowed to go home only on weekends.
The time they did have together, Amy Cunniff said in a letter read Friday at his funeral, was spent helping him recite state Penal Law with flashcards as the two snuggled on the couch. When it was time for him to return to the academy, they slow-danced together.
“I know you’re thinking that this sounds cheesy,” Amy Cunniff said in the letter, “but that’s honestly how the two of us were. We were so much in love, from our first date to our last day together.”
David Cunniff, 35, of Princetown, was a nine-year veteran of the state police who died Tuesday of injuries suffered the night before when a tractor-trailer slammed into the back of his patrol car on the Thruway in Amsterdam.
He and Amy have two sons, Caleb, 6, and Zachary, 4.
Amy’s letter was read by their pastor, the Rev. Tim Owens, at Grace Fellowship Church in Latham, where her husband’s funeral was held Friday. She said she wanted all to hear from her the type of man her husband was.
David Cunniff was the man who, as a teenager, shyly gave her a note at her cashier’s job before nervously taking off. The note informed her he liked her.
David Cunniff was the man she married four years later, when both were 20. They had 14 wonderful years together.
“Dave was my best friend,” she wrote.
Her husband, Amy said, became a trooper because it allowed her to stay at home and raise their children. It wasn’t his life’s ambition to be one, she said, but once he became one, he flourished.
“I saw a change in Dave when he graduated” from the academy, Amy said. “He loved being a trooper. He had such pride when he put on his uniform. He loved going to work.”
She recalled how she would tell everyone what her husband did. Her humble husband, however, simply told people he worked for the state.
When Caleb was born in 2007, she said, she never saw her husband smile bigger than the first time he held him.
It was after son Zachary came along that the couple learned Caleb had Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a disease that requires the 6-year-old to use an electric wheelchair to get around. David vowed with his wife to not stop until a treatment and cure was found for the disease.
To those ends, they had raised $52,000 for research — they set the lofty goal of someday raising $1 million. David was adamant, she recalled: If they could spare one family the pain they suffered, they had to do it.
“That just demonstrates what type of guy my husband was,” Amy wrote.
Her husband had promised Caleb that, when he was older, they would watch all the “Star Wars” movies together.
“And so now, I have a date with Caleb,” Amy wrote. “We’ll cuddle up, and we’ll watch them all together.”
The family has requested that memorial contributions be sent to an SMA organization, Families of SMA, 925 Busse Road, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60007, or www.curesma.org.
“He was a man of integrity, compassion and love,” Amy wrote of her husband. “My life is all the better for being Dave’s wife.
“The boys and I will love him forever, and we anxiously await our reunion with him in heaven.”
— Steven Cook
“Today,” D’Amico told those gathered at Grace Fellowship Church in Latham, “we honor the memory of David W. Cunniff, a well-respected and admired state trooper, a loving and devoted father, husband and family man and a true friend to so many.”
D’Amico and others spoke Friday before a sea of gray and blue, as well as Cunniff’s widow, children and other relatives and Cunniff’s Grace Fellowship Church family. All remembered the man they knew and loved.
More than 1,200 people — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo — came out to pay their final respects to Cunniff, 35, of Princetown, who died Tuesday of injuries suffered Monday night when a tractor-trailer slammed into his cruiser during a traffic stop near Exit 27 in Amsterdam the night before. The accident remains under investigation.
The service took place in the church the Cunniff family has attended for years and where Cunniff played guitar in the church band. His flag-draped casket was carried in by his fellow troopers, passing Amy Cunniff and their two young sons, both wearing trooper Stetsons.
Looking on and saluting was a formation of troopers and other members of law enforcement — 60 officers wide and 20 deep — from around the region and the nation.
In a sanctuary decorated for the Christmas season, those remembering Cunniff came from what his father Kenneth Cunniff described as the trooper’s three families: blood, Christian and trooper.
Among the mourners was Cunniff’s best friend and frequent patrol partner, Scott Claus, and Cunniff’s sisters, who had written letters read by their husbands.
Grace Fellowship’s pastor, the Rev. Tim Owens, read a letter from Amy Cunniff, which told of the man she had known since they were teenagers.
The letter described their love for each other and their boys and how much her husband loved being a trooper. She talked of their two boys and their drive to raise money to fight Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a disease that has afflicted their son, Caleb, 6.
“I could talk for hours about the wonderful husband my husband was,” Amy Cunniff said in the letter, “but I hope by sharing some of these memories you can get a glimpse of Dave the husband and father.”
Also included in the service was a montage of family photos, including vacation pictures and pictures from around the house. One showed the couple kissing while Caleb and his brother, Zachary, jokingly covered their eyes.
Cunniff’s sisters spoke of the fun-loving brother they grew up with, a brother who jokingly practiced his karate on them and who was their hero.
Cunniff’s sister Christine McDonald, in a letter read by her husband, Shaun, spoke of all the good times they had together. She recalled her wedding, listening to her brother play his guitar and sing for them. She also recalled how her brother made fun of her laugh.
“Most of all, I want you to know how so very much I love you, my big brother,” McDonald said in the letter. “You will be in my thoughts every single day.”
Cunniff’s musical skills were on display in a video played at the service, with the church’s choir singing a song with the lyric, “You are my God.”
In his own remarks, Owens spoke of Cunniff’s faith and love for his church and God. Christmas, Owens said, reminds all that they will see Cunniff again in heaven.
“If Dave were here right now, today, on this stage,” Owens said, “there is one thing Dave would want you to know, and that is God is good.”
Early in the ceremony, Claus told how he admired Cunniff’s devotion to his family and his church. He also recalled their time together in the academy and on patrol. He recalled hearing about Cunniff’s life from the passenger seat or across the desk.
“I could always relate to Dave,” Claus said, “because he was just a regular guy and loved his place in life.
“The small things in life seemed to be the most important,” Claus added a short time later, “but they always revolved around his family.”
When the service was over, Cunniff’s fellow troopers and law enforcement personnel exited and resumed their earlier formation in a light drizzle. They gave Cunniff one more salute and a state police helicopter flew overhead.
The flag from Cunniff’s casket was carefully folded and presented to his wife, while Cunniff’s two sons were presented flags of their own.
“David was one of us,” D’Amico said in closing his remarks at the service. “He will always be one of us, part of the state police, always a trooper.
“Trooper David Cunniff, Shield 5128,” D’Amico concluded, “thank you for your service to the people of New York. Thank you for a job well done. And God bless you, and may you rest in peace.”