Deputy Robert Kunze's daughter: 'My dad was a hero. He died bravely'

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

They came from next door and across the country. They came by the hundreds to pay final honors to Sedgwick County Sheriff's Deputy Robert Kunze. They laughed and they cried as they said goodbye Friday morning at his End of Watch celebration.

It was a morning full of ceremony from the moment Deputy Kunze arrived at the church with a full escort from the sheriff's office.  Groups like the Wichita Police Motor Unit greeted him with formal salutes, salutes that were repeated when deputies escorted Kunze and his family into the church sanctuary.

During the service Pastor Bob Beckler asked all first responders to stand, law enforcement, fire fighters and EMS.  Those standing made up at least 90% of the people in attendance.

Some of them, especially in the honor guards, came from law enforcement agencies around the country.

"We have the New York City Honor Guard here. We have Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska. They come in from everywhere. There's just not greater honor that we can pay in our respects to our fallen officer," said Sgt. Jesse Hancock, Wichita Police Motor Unit.

The pastor then told those first responders the best way to honor Deputy Kunze's life, and the life-saving gift of his death, is by continuing to do what he did, saying "by passing on the gift and giving it to someone else we honor him.... Robert died so that others could live."

The service was expected to last about an hour but went closer to two as friends and family shared stories about Kunze's life, stories that highlighted not only his dedication to service but his love of pulling pranks and making people laugh. 

One of Kunze's fellow deputies, Deputy Rob Lord, described the prankster he loved like a brother to those gathered in the church.

He told the crowd, "We inadvertently convinced our class president, somewhat gullible, our field training deputy had a different name."

He added, "We became brothers, beyond the blue line.... (we got into) a lot of shenanigans. Probably why he always told me I wasn't invited to his retirement party. I know way too much!"

They learned the man they'd come to honor "was an individual who had a great smile, someone who everybody at the sheriff's office knew and loved." according to his boss, Sheriff Jeff Easter.

His daughter had a different memory to share.  She told the mourners, "My dad was a hero. He protected everyone. He was smart, funny....He died bravely."

"We all kind of know each other," Sgt. Hancock said. "He'd been on 12 years. I've been on 23 years. We've crossed paths, made calls together."

But many of the hundreds who came to Deputy Robert Kunze's celebration of life had never even met him, coming from Overland Park and Garden City, coming from New York and Texas.

They came to give a deputy killed in the line of duty a final salute.

"There's just no greater honor that we can pay in our respects to our fallen officer," said Hancock.

Which just reinforced the determination of these members of the Wichita Police Motor Unit to make sure everything was polished to perfection, for when they led Deputy Munze on his final journey.

"Deputy Kunze went out a hero. Be was a hero in his final moments and we all need to pay our respects to him," Sgt. Hancock said.  "My wife and family won't come because then that's all they think about."

Killed in the line of duty, it's a danger that every law enforcement officer and his or her family knows they face.

These Wichita police officers arrived at the church early and took their time going over their formation plans and polishing their motorcycles, making sure they were ready to give Kunze all honor.

"The least we can do is be perfect today, in our formations and our maneuvers and our bikes polished and just to pay our respects," said Sgt. Hancock. "Do our job today."

Joining the officers, hundreds of veterans and patriots lined the street in front of the church, standing stock still holding American flags.

"It's just amazing to be part of this," said Terry "Dark Horse" Houck with the Patriot Guard. "And what a show of respect to Robert Kunze's wife and daughter and family.  It's hard not to shed tears."

"We try not to get emotional," said Jerry "Jarhead" Allen with the Patriot Guard.  "We try to stay on the outside. But when you see the family and everyone present, What's going on? We just feel like it's nice to be a part of it."