Young Zachary Cunniff idly played with his mother Amy’s necklace as she held him Tuesday afternoon on the Empire State Plaza in Albany.
On the necklace were two items that told the story of why the mother and son were there: One was a small New York State Police shield with her husband’s initials, the other her husband’s wedding ring.
They were there for the New York Police Officers Memorial Remembrance Ceremony, an annual event that honors officers killed in the line of duty.
One of the 20 officers honored Tuesday was Amy’s husband and Zachary’s father, Trooper David Cunniff. Cunniff, a nine-year state police veteran, was killed in December in a Thruway accident during a traffic stop.
“I still choose to think about how he lived his life versus how he died,” Amy Cunniff, of Princetown, said after Tuesday’s ceremony. “That’s where he was the hero, the everyday things.”
Tuesday’s ceremony included officers and dignitaries from around the state, including a large contingent from the state police.
Of the 20 officers honored, five died in the line of duty in 2013. Four of those, Cunniff included, were from the state police. The fifth was from the Buffalo Police Department.
Thirteen others were honored after having died of Ground Zero-related illnesses. The final two died decades ago.
The additions bring the total number of officers honored on the wall to 1,360.
“These aren’t just names,” Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy told those gathered. “They’re people with families, with lives. There’s a whole story behind each one of these names that it’s important to tell and keep on telling.”
Among the other dignitaries to speak was Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan. Silver spoke of how the monument ensures the names of the men and women etched into it won’t be forgotten.
Silver said the wall shows the nature of the men and women who accept the duty of enforcing the law.
“Law enforcement is a calling to men and women of valor,” he said. “It’s a calling to citizens who are driven to make a difference and to make things right, who are compelled to confront injustice and disaster, because this is what heroes do.”
Giving the invocation was the Rev. Joseph D’Angelo of the Nassau County Police Department. In his prayer, D’Angelo said what matters is that the men and women served with pride and honor, that they were “one of us, serving wherever needed.”
“Lord, give us the courage to carry on, to still live and care,” D’Angelo said, “not to be vengeful or bitter, but simply to trust your word is true.”
David Cunniff’s story was that of a husband and father, a man of faith and a trooper. He was a man who, with his wife, tirelessly raised money to find a treatment for spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that inflicts their oldest son, Caleb.
Caleb was ill with the flu Tuesday and couldn’t make the ceremony, his mother said. He was, however, looking forward to seeing pictures and video.
David Cunniff was someone who was deeply involved in his church, Grace Fellowship in Latham. He played guitar in the church band. He also loved being a trooper.
After Tuesday’s ceremony, Amy Cunniff said she has gotten through the past five months with much help from others.
“I’m still standing,” she said. “I have my good days and my bad days. But I’ve got an amazing family, an amazing church family, and the state police is just an awesome family to be a part of.”
Among the many other Cunniff family members at the ceremony was the trooper’s father, Kenneth Cunniff. He said the family will be traveling to Washington next week for National Police Week.
Cunniff said the support the family has received has been great. Getting through everything, though, has obviously been difficult.
“I don’t like being in this club,” he said, “but we’re here and we’re doing what we have to do.”
He added later, “I’m just proud of my son.”