After Sweethearts Died Weeks Before He Proposed, Family 'Couldn't Believe' How Many Showed Up to Mourn Them

"Even the smallest things they would do would touch people's lives," a family member says of Sam Cullen and Suzie Kedar

<p>Haley Tynes</p> A memorial for crash victims Sam Cullen (left) and his girlfriend, Suzie Kedar

Haley Tynes

A memorial for crash victims Sam Cullen (left) and his girlfriend, Suzie Kedar

Sam Cullen and Suzie Kedar had so much life ahead of them when they died in a motorcycle crash in Washington state in early May, just weeks before he was set to propose.

But in the months since, their loved ones have learned more about the ways in which they had already left a mark in their small community of Whidbey Island, where Cullen, 28, was stationed at a Naval base.

Cullen’s cousin Haley Tynes, an attorney who lives in Washington, tells PEOPLE about the memorials and tributes being held for Cullen and Kedar, 27, since the fatal crash.

For example, Tynes says, relatives were taken on a tour in late May of the base where Cullen worked in Washington as a Navy petty officer 2nd class

“The tour meant a lot to our families. For the first time, we really understood the type of sailor Sam was, the impressive and important work he did, the fact that he mentored others, and the difference he (and Suzie) made in the lives of so many people,” Tynes says.

“I wish I had known all of this before Sammy passed so I could've told him how proud of him I am, how proud we all are, and praise the impressive and amazing man he has become,” she says, adding, “I can only hope to carry on his and Suzie's legacy by following in their shoes and being a better person in this world; I can only hope to touch half the lives that Sam and Suzie touched in their short time on this planet.”

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Whidbey Coffee, where Kedar worked, also organized a beachside sunset vigil for the couple in late May.

<p>Haley Tynes</p> A memorial for crash victims Sam Cullen and Suzie Kedar (pictured at left)

Haley Tynes

A memorial for crash victims Sam Cullen and Suzie Kedar (pictured at left)

“Our families couldn't believe how many people showed up and stayed until the sun went down to talk to our families, tell stories about Sammy and Suzie and honor their memories,” Tynes says. 

A photo of the couple now has a “permanent place” at the shop, she says.

Since the crash, Cullen and Kedar’s families have heard a familiar refrain about them.

“We were told stories about the type of person Sam was at work and how many lives he touched by, for example, simply checking in and asking colleagues how they're doing and genuinely caring about their answers … [W]e’ve also heard this from neighbors and others that knew him and Suzie,” Tynes says. “It seems like this was a consistent theme.”

According to his mother, Cullen had received multiple commendations in his military service, including a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and a Plane Captain of the Quarter honor.

Some examples stick with Tynes, like how her cousin was the kind of dedicated friend who would carry someone down the beach after a run-in with a stingray, invite other sailors to his home for Thanksgiving — and remember to give out high-fives to his neighbors’ 5-year-old son.

“They genuinely cared about everyone they interacted with and that even the smallest things they would do would touch people's lives,” Tynes says of Cullen and Kedar.

Hundreds of people attended a May 31 memorial at Cullen’s Navy base, according to Tynes, who calls it “absolutely incredible.”

“I’ve struggled to find the words to describe how meaningful it was to our families,” she says. “In a way, it closed out an awful month for our families in the most beautiful and touching way; a sort of final send off for Sammy and Suzie, the lives they lived and Sam's service to our country.”

“The service concluded with roll call of Sam's team, with Sam's name being called last, three times, with no answer. It was the most painful and sobering part of the week,” Tynes continues, “but also made me [and] us so incredibly proud of Sammy for his service to this country and the person he became.”

<p>Haley Tynes</p> Loved ones of Sam Cullen and Suzie Kedar

Haley Tynes

Loved ones of Sam Cullen and Suzie Kedar

There have been other remembrances and other ways in which the couple’s broader network of friends and family have come together.

More than $54,000 were raised to help bring Kedar’s body home to New York, while the Navy helped transport Cullen’s body. 

Tynes says locals in Washington rallied around her and Kedar's families to help them through the aftermath of the crash, including helping look after the couple's pets — Cullen’s turtle, Squirt; Kedar’s seven birds, called budgies — and her plants until they could be sent back to their relatives.

There are yet more events planned: Cullen was a “diehard" fan of the New York Mets, and the Seattle Mariners are planning a moment of remembrance for him and Kedar during their Aug. 9 game against the Mets, Tynes says. She and the couple had planned to all attend that day, before the crash.

The Mets, likewise, have sent their condolences and are considering some kind of memorial, according to Tynes.

Cullen’s parents, Shari and Tim, created a foundation in his name to “provide scholarships to students who exemplify the values, dedication and commitment epitomized by Sammy,” his cousin says.

“The current idea is to give scholarships to graduating seniors entering the military and scholar athletes. Shari and Tim are also working with Farmingdale High School [which Cullen attended] o hold an annual fundraising wrestling tournament in Sam's name,” Tynes says.

<p>Haley Tynes</p> Sam Cullen's memorial after he died in crash with girlfriend Suzie Kedar

Haley Tynes

Sam Cullen's memorial after he died in crash with girlfriend Suzie Kedar
<p>Haley Tynes</p> Sam Cullen's memorial after he died in a crash with girlfriend Suzie Kedar

Haley Tynes

Sam Cullen's memorial after he died in a crash with girlfriend Suzie Kedar

News of Cullen and Kedar’s deaths has spread so far in part because of their love story: Sweethearts since their youth, they met while attending Farmingdale High in New York and grew closer in the decade since graduating in 2014, dating for much of that time, Tynes says.

Cullen planned to propose on June 1.

Just two days before the crash, “Sam called me as he left the ring store. He excitedly yelled, ‘I got it, it’s perfect, I got it. I got every detail right. It’s exactly what she wanted,’ “ Tynes recalled in her speech at her cousin’s funeral in mid May. “I had no idea what he was talking about until he finally said that he got the ring.”

"I know that Sam treated Suzie like his queen," Cullen's mother, Shari, previously told "She was his queen."

They died on May 2 when their motorcycle struck a pole around 8 p.m., Island County sheriff’s detective Ed Wallace has said.

Both Cullen and Kedar were reportedly wearing helmets when the crash occurred.

Wallace told PEOPLE that “we do not suspect drugs or alcohol were involved." He said that preliminary information indicated only that the bike left the roadway and hit a pole.

<p>Haley Tynes</p> A memorial to Sam Cullen and Suzie Kedar, who died in a fatal crash in Washington in May

Haley Tynes

A memorial to Sam Cullen and Suzie Kedar, who died in a fatal crash in Washington in May

In her speech at Cullen’s funeral, Tynes remembered his bond with Kedar as deep and abiding.

"Sam and Suzie had their own language: The stolen glances, the secret smiles, holding hands any chance they could — even in a place as ordinary as a parking lot walking back to my car,” Tynes said. “Their love was anything but ordinary. It was extraordinary, and I was happy to be a part of it. I can only hope to find a love like they had one day.”

Tynes also described one of her last shared moments with the couple, in late April, weeks before the crash. They were driving home from the grocery store, preparing for Passover dinner.

“We put the windows down and Sam played a song called ‘Corona and Lime.’ All three of us sang along with the song on repeat. We reminisced about Long Island and talked about how excited Suzie was to plant the hummingbird flower seeds we just bought,” Tynes said.

<p>Jami Rosario/GoFundMe</p> Sam Cullen (left) and Suzie Kedar

Jami Rosario/GoFundMe

Sam Cullen (left) and Suzie Kedar

“They lived their life by staying in the moment — being present, cherishing family and friends and the time they had with them. In their honor, I ask you to remember Sam and Suzie in both the ordinary and extraordinary moments in life,” Tynes said.

Just remember to slow down, look up from your phone.

“Listen to the birds sing,” just like Kedar would have, ready to name each one she heard.

“Appreciate the nature and world around you,” like Cullen enjoyed doing.

“Check those items off your bucket list because that’s what they both would do,” Tynes said. “Appreciate the time you have here on this earth because it’s short and like them we should live every moment as if it’s our last.”

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