For those who knew Alexander Cunningham, he will be remembered for having a sharp mind, being an avid adventurer and someone who changed the lives of people around him.
The 22-year-old Western Colorado University student was found dead on campus Wednesday, July 15. Gunnison County Coroner Michael Barnes confirmed the cause of death was suicide by gunshot.
“On behalf of all of Western, I share my deepest condolences to Alex’s family and friends, and hope you too can take a moment to reflect on Western’s community of humans, how we each are inseparable partners within it, and how we continue to build up and rebuild one another to honor each other and honor Alex’s memory,” wrote university President Greg Salsbury in an email to the Western community on the day of his death.
Cunningham was entering his final year at the school and was a double major in psychology and chemistry, carrying a 4.0 grade point average. He was also heavily involved in extracurriculars as an orientation leader, president of the boxing club, member of the psychology club and was a recipient of the Academic Leadership Program Scholarship (ALPS) — a competitive scholarship program for first- and second-year students who show leadership potential.
“I knew him since he was a freshman, since day one as his advisor for ALPS,” said Vice President of Student Affairs Gary Pierson. “In my experience with him, he was just a very kind hearted, humble guy.”
Cunningham was born in Lexington, Ky., and grew up in Mount Pleasant, S.C. After graduating high school, he enrolled in a recreational program that took him skiing, rock climbing and mountaineering in Barcelona, Spain and Australia.
The program later shut down, so Cunningham began thinking about school. On a trip back from Moab, Utah. with his father, the two stopped through Gunnison and visited Western’s campus. After that, the choice was simple.
“Like most students, once he visited campus and saw what Western had to offer, he made his decision to attend school here pretty quickly,” Pierson said.
Cunningham ended up living in the same dorm hall as Quinn Smith his first year. The two quickly discovered a shared interest in climbing and had already begun planning excursions.
“By that weekend, we were on our way to a camping trip in Crested Butte with the rest of our dorm,” Smith said. “From then on our entire dorm was very close, but I didn’t have any friends quite as close as Alex.”
Smith recalled Cunningham acting as a rock climbing guide for him and his friends. He had a great sense of humor and was always making someone laugh when they needed it. Smith said Cunningham was among “the most intelligent people that I have ever met,” and usually left a conversation with him with a new trivial fact or perspective.
According to Smith, Cunningham was planning on going to graduate school to study neurobiology and pharmaceutical research. Pierson added that he had been working at the City Market pharmacy for the spring and summer.
When it comes to recalling a favorite memory with Cunningham, Smith has too many to count. But one that sticks out was a spring break camping trip in Zion, Utah, where Smith recalled one night the two friends took a walk to look at the stars.
“We were both at our own sort of crossroads in our lives and were both scared and uncertain about what to do,” he explained. “We talked, looked at the stars, and helped to give each other guidance and learn from each other’s perspective.
“Alex had a way of bringing us all together in a way that made you feel like you belonged to something special. Maybe that’s because his friendship was (special) and rare in a lot of ways. I don’t know if I’ll ever meet a friend like him again.”
(Roberta Marquette can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at email@example.com.)
The Center for Mental Health Support Line: free, 24 hours. If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or just need to talk with someone, call 970.252.6220. Teletherapy sessions available.
Colorado Crisis Center: 1-844-493-TALK(8255) or text “TALK” to 38255. Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor.
If you are interested in sending letters, cards or notes to Alexander Cunningham’s family, you may address them to his father, Keith Cunningham, 4040 Albion Street, #304, Denver, CO 80216