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Family says JSO lieutenant’s ‘light will continue to shine bright'

Lt. Chris Cunningham, 47, died after contracting COVID-19

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When Lt. Christopher Cunningham contracted the coronavirus, his family and fellow officers at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office believed he would pull through.

“It’s inconceivable that he’s gone,” said Cunningham’s wife, who he affectionately called Lisa. “We had so many wonderful years together. It’s just everyone is emotionally devastated by Chris’ untimely departure.”

The Sheriffs Office, where Cunningham worked for 20 years, has ruled his passing a line of duty death after establishing he contracted the coronavirus while on duty.

ORIGINAL STORY: Jacksonville police mourn death of lieutenant who died of ‘COVID-19 related illness’

“Everybody knew Chris was sick and they were all praying and hoping he would recover. For awhile, we all thought that would happen,” said Steve Zona, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. “But obviously that didn’t.”

Cunningham, 47, leaves behind his wife, five children and three grandchildren.

Chris Cunningham

“We will never have another opportunity to say I love you or place a phone call asking for fatherly advice,” his children said in a group statement. “As we accept the reality and process his untimely transition, we urge residents to understand the severity and life-altering effects of COVID-19. Although we miss him dearly, his vision of love and family must live on, and his light will continue to shine bright through us.”

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Ken Jefferson, a retired Jacksonville officer and long-time friend of Cunningham, said the lieutenant was a family man and dedicated to a life of service.

“He loved his family,” said Jefferson. “He treated all of his people fairly. They enjoyed working, actually they would run through a brick wall for Chris Cunningham, because he led from the front.”

In a message from Sheriff Mike Williams, he wrote that Lt. Cunningham was the commanding officer of the crime scene unit, latent prints and the photo lab. Cunningham also worked off-duty at the Rosa Parks Transit Station for 18 years, according to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

Sheriff Williams wrote: “His mark on all of us that worked with him is indelible.”

The Sheriff’s Office says Cunningham will be escorted to the Hardage-Giddens Funeral Home on Friday at 1 p.m. The route takes Cunningham south on Jefferson Street from 8th Street over the viaduct leading to Riverside Avenue. The escort will continue on Riverside Avenue onto Edison Avenue to the funeral home on Park Street.

The public is welcome to pay their respects to Cunningham on the sidewalks located on either side of Jefferson Street in the downtown area or on Riverside Avenue between Jackson and Forest streets.

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.