Fallen Kirkwood Mo., police officer has ties to the Heartland

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Published: Feb. 23, 2020 at 9:56 AM CST
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(KFVS) - A fallen Kirkwood Mo., police officer has ties to the Heartland.

The Kirkwood Police Department is honoring one of its fallen officers, but this is one you may have never heard of before now. He was killed back in 1898. For decades, the department has been trying to find his family to honor him.

"You can see directly across the street and across Argonne Avenue which at the time was Main Street," said Gary Quint, a retired Kirkwood Police officer as he pointed from the window of the building that houses the department. "There was a building in that vacant space at the time that housed the three small shops where the shooting and the death occurred."

He can still see where the department's first line of duty death happened more than a century ago.

"Marshal Gunning was shot in front of the barber shop and then was able to stagger two doors down where he collapsed into the cigar store and that's where he died," said Quint.

That fateful day was October 11, 1898.

"He was attempting to break up a disturbance, a fight between two individuals. And he was shot and killed in what we would consider in the line of duty," said Kirkwood Public Information Officer Gary Baldridge about Marshal Patrick Gunning.

Gunning was young, newly married, and had no children.

Nearly 100 years later, in the 1990s, Gunning caught the attention of then-Kirkwood Police Captain Diane Scanga at a prayer breakfast.

"He was the first name on the list of officers killed in the line of duty as 'Marshal Patrick Dunning' in 1898. And I thought, 'We should know more about him, this is Kirkwood. We take care of our people,'" said Scanga.

The problem was "Dunning" wasn't actually his name, and over the years, any family link was also lost.

"They used to have council meetings in the saloon, and I guess it was getting long into the night and somehow his name was written into the notes as ‘Dunning,’ instead of ‘Gunning,’ said Scanga.

Once the name was corrected, Scanga started a search for his family, hoping to properly honor him. She scoured newspaper articles and poured over documents for hours at the library.

"We had real active endeavorer 15-20 years ago and came to a very strong dead end," said Baldridge.

Then earlier this year, the department posted on Facebook asking for help locating family of their fallen brother.

"In law enforcement, we're a big family, and it was a part of our history that was missing," said Baldridge when asked why they renewed the search.

That's when avid genealogy hobbyist Sue Johnson saw the post.

"We all came from some place. And it's fun to find out the stories where we came from," said Johnson.

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Johnson, who happens to also be a video editor at KMOV, started digging on various websites she frequents for genealogy.

"Once I found his [Dunning's] siblings in local papers down from Cairo, Illinois, it's like wow, maybe," said Johnson.

She eventually followed the trail to Michael Gunning in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. She picked up the phone and gave him a call.

"I asked her if she was one of these people trying to help a Nigerian prince out of jail," said Gunning, admitting he thought the call was a scam.

Johnson spelled out the family lineage to Gunning, explaining how he was related to Patrick Gunning, the Kirkwood Police marshal in 1898.

"Descends through Patrick Gunning's brother Michael," said Johnson, making this man Gunning's great-grandnephew.

Not only did Gunning learn of his connection to the fallen officer, Johnson's genealogy discoveries also opened the door to other family members.

"I was always under the assumption I was just about the only one left. So apparently, I’m not," said Gunning, noting it was a good revelation.

"Without her [Johnson's] assistance, without you reaching out to us to make that connection, we were at a dead end, we had no leads to go on," said Baldridge. "Without her professionalism, her hobby, her relentlessness, we would not be where we are today," said Baldridge.

On this day, it was a reunion, between the Gunning family and the Kirkwood Police Department.

"It was surreal," said Baldridge about finally meeting the family of the fallen officer.

Together, they visited the final resting place of Marshal Patrick Gunning to pay their respects.

"It's a sense of closure in that the family knows we care," said Scanga.

"It is gratifying to know people care and took the time to look," said Gunning.

But, the search isn't over just yet. There is still another piece missing from this story - Patrick Gunning's picture.

"I tried," said Scanga. "I've looked at every newspaper article in association with this and all the Kirkwood history I could find and apparently he was just a camera shy kind of guy."

Now that they have a family to honor in his memory, this team is still hoping to uncover a photo, putting a face on this story more than 120 years later.

Kirkwood Mo., is located about 111 miles from Cape Girardeau, Mo.

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