HAYWARD — Relatives say Thomas Cunningham loved his 13-year-old daughter more than anyone in the world.
The 38-year-old Hayward resident shared custody of the girl, spending a week with her, then a week away from her. It was an agreement that the girl's mother, Nancy Cunningham, never had a problem with since her separation from the father a year and a half ago.
"She was really close to her dad, and he loved to take her all kinds of places," Nancy Cunningham said. "They'd go fishing, to Raiders games, to the park with the dogs."
The father and daughter were returning from a two-block trip with the dogs — a year-old German shepherd and an unspecified smaller breed — on Tuesday night when something terrible happened.
They had just purchased ice cream treats from L&M Liquors and were headed along upper B Street shortly after 10 p.m. when the German shepherd, described as playful, sniffed at a man standing on the sidewalk.
The man didn't like it, and told Cunningham to get the dog away from him. His daughter pulled the dog away, but the man began to argue with Cunningham.
The man got angry, pulled out a handgun and shot Cunningham as his daughter looked on.
Cunningham was pronounced dead after being taken to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley.
The gunman was described as black, in his early 20s, 5-feet-4 to 6 feet tall, with a very slight build. He was wearing a dark brown or black hooded
sweatshirt with a white logo on the rim of the hood and possibly an orange design on the front, and very baggy bluejeans, police said.
Police Lt. Christine Orrey said police believe more witnesses saw what happened, and urged them to come forward.
"Some witnesses saw other people in the parking lot who would have had a direct view of what happened and the direction the suspect fled," Orrey said.
Through tears, Nancy Cunningham said she and her daughter are devastated.
"Tom was a really good person," she said. "He didn't deserve this. All he was doing is getting some ice cream for (his daughter)."
Thomas Cunningham worked as a head janitor for the Dublin Unified School District, where "all the kids loved him, and all the teachers loved him," Nancy said. "They're going to be in shock when they hear."
He also was known around the neighborhood as someone who was always willing to lend a hand.
"He was the type of person who would help out anyone," said Amanda Petray, Thomas' stepdaughter. "He was loved by all the neighbors, and known as kind of a witty, funny guy."
The shopping center that includes the liquor store is at the intersection of B and Vermont streets, with a Grocery Outlet as the main tenant.
Jagdev Bajwa, a manager at the liquor store, said an armed guard patrols the shopping center to deter people from loitering or breaking into cars.
"They do a really good job," he said. "I have no idea what can be done, if someone would do something like this even with the guard."
The guard was using the store's restroom Tuesday night when Cunningham was shot, Bajwa said.
Bajwa said Cunningham would often come to the store to buy grocery items, often with his daughter in tow.
On Tuesday, he had just closed the shop when the pair showed up, but he opened the door because Cunningham was a regular customer.
"He was a good guy, friendly all the time," Bajwa said. "I would see him walking around with his daughter, and most of the time they would come in together."
Anyone with information may call Hayward police investigators at 510-293-7034.
Also, Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Callers may remain anonymous at 510-293-7197.
Eric Kurhi covers Hayward. Reach him at 510-293-2473.
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