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Opinion Remember D.C. Metro hero Robert Cunningham’s name

Signs and flowers make up a makeshift memorial at the Potomac Avenue Metro station, where employee Robert Cunningham was killed. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades For The Washington Post)
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D.C. Metro mechanic Robert Cunningham — known as “Bob” or “Ham” to friends and co-workers — died heroically this week, giving his life to prevent what could have been another mass shooting. As Wednesday’s morning commute was wrapping up, an active shooter exited a bus, ran down the escalator into the Potomac Avenue Metro station in Southeast Washington and started threatening passengers. When the shooter approached a woman, Mr. Cunningham intervened. He was a mechanic, not a police officer, but he acted to save an innocent person — and to help the transit community he proudly served for more than 20 years. He almost certainly saved lives by slowing down the shooter, giving others a chance to tackle the gunman before police arrived.

The 64-year-old is a true hero. While no words can bring him back, people across the country are honoring him. Many riders have left flower bouquets and signs at the Potomac Avenue Metro station, and people have given more than $100,000 in donations to an online GoFundMe for his family. In time, it would be appropriate for the city and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to name a landmark after him.

For now, the focus should be on his surviving wife and children, and on making the D.C. transit system safer. While the GoFundMe is commendable, the transit agency should take care of the family. Union leaders say WMATA’s top officials have assured them that the transit authority will “do right” for Mr. Cunningham’s family. That needs to happen.

WMATA can also honor Mr. Cunningham by making the area’s public transportation as safe as possible. It’s alarming that this is the third serious shooting in the past month on the transit system. Two have died from these tragic events — Mr. Cunningham and a 17-year-old high school student. Serious crimes on the transit system jumped 33 percent from 2021 to 2022, WMATA data show. Compared with before the pandemic, there’s more crime now, given the level of current ridership, than there was in 2019. Additional riders won’t return unless they feel safe.

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General Manager Randy Clarke has a tough task ahead with ridership still weak and the system’s financing in doubt. WMATA has increased police patrols about 30 percent during peak commute times, hired several crisis intervention specialists and installed more video systems. But the deaths in recent weeks underscore that more is necessary.

As selfless as Mr. Cunningham’s action was, it should not have been necessary. It shouldn’t take another tragedy for WMATA to improve.

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