Officers, citizens line streets to pay respect to JSO Lt. Chris Cunningham

Cunningham died of COVID-19 related illness that he contracted while on duty

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dozens of fellow police officers, firefighters and members of the community lined the streets from Hogan’s Creek to Riverside on Friday afternoon to honor and remember Lt. Chris Cunningham as his body was escorted from the medical examiner’s office to the funeral home.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office lieutenant died Wednesday from a COVID-19 related illness the department said he contracted while on duty.

Many of those he served with and supervised were among those saluting as a slow and virtually silent procession as a hearse carrying the police veteran passed through the streets he served for so many years.

“All the police cars lined up in a certain way with all their lights going and how silent it is -- it just tells all of their emotions,” said David, who came out to pay his respects.

Cunningham, who was 48, had five children and three grandchildren. He is remembered as a beloved family man who dedicated his life to public service. He worked for JSO for 20 years. He was the commanding officer of the crime scene unit, latent prints and photo lab at the Sheriff’s Office.

“I can’t think of anyone that did not like him,” News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said. “He was well respected by his subordinates, by his men. He led from the front. He treated everybody fairly. He was just all-around a nice guy.”

Cunningham was a man of the country, too. He spent eight years serving in the U.S. Navy.

Cunningham’s wife told News4Jax that he “embraced those in need as a personal mission to serve them.” His son, who provided most of the photos above, said he and his dad were locked in for life – and still are.

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Family photo of Lt. Chris Cunningham

Cunningham was carried to the Hardage-Giddens Funeral Home on Friday afternoon. Jefferson said the funeral home picks up the costs for line-of-duty deaths – one less thing for the family to worry about during these difficult times.

As it happened: News4Jax coverage of the procession

The public was invited to pay respects to the lieutenant as his procession passes by and hundreds lined the streets.

“We decided we would come out and pay our respects to him,” said Andre Jerrell, whose family stood at attention on Riverside Avenue as their fellow church member and friend was carried past.

“A great friend, a devoted church member at Saint Paul AME Church,” Jarrell said. “We sat on the same row. He played with my son and my daughter. I mean, Chris was just a great guy. It was so unexpected.”

it was also a teaching moment for their children her children that life is precious – and the coronavirus is dangerous.

“The kids did ask who had passed away. We let them know why we were out here,” Jerrell said.

Cunningham’s family had asked attendees to remain socially distant and wear a mask if social distancing isn’t possible to prevent the spread of the virus that took the life of their father.

Funeral plans have not yet been announced.

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