A fund-raiser to honor Eric "Petey" Kunins drew friends to Anytime Fitness for the White T Workout. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

By Raquel Hendrickson

Eric Kunins’ mother had no idea how many friends he had made in Maricopa – not until his shocking death last month brought scores of acquaintances to a memorial event and a fund-raiser.

Maria Kunins lives in Orlando, Florida. Since her son moved to Arizona, the family usually only saw him when he visited home, she said.

“Eric was an awesome kid,” Maria Kunins said. “He was the kind of kid who would come home and clean up around the house and take his dad out to eat, just as a way of saying, ‘Thank you, Dad, for giving me everything that I have.’”

Eric Kunins, 34, was a flight simulator technician at US Airways Jeffery D. McClelland Flight Center in Phoenix. He lived in Maricopa nearly eight years.

Eric Kunins was at work July 15 when he was stabbed during an altercation with a co-worker and died later at a hospital. The co-worker was questioned but no arrest has been made. The investigation by the Phoenix Police Department continues, to the frustration of the family.

Maria Kunins learned of news reports of a killing at the US Airways facility but did not hear from Eric. She called the facility herself to find out what was going on. A staff member put her on hold to talk to another staff member, who put her on hold for someone else.

“That’s when I said, ‘I think Eric is gone,’” Maria Kunins said.

Her call was transferred to a supervisor, who told her he was going to pass her on to the doctor. That is when she knew for certain her son had died. She said US Airways offered emotional support and sent a representative to the house in Florida.

What she wants more is explanation and justice. But she is happy to see the outpouring of support and love for Eric from the town he came to call home.

“I thought he was kind of shy, so I was surprised to see all these people,” Maria Kunins said. She was especially surprised to see the number of women he socialized with.

A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Kunins had served a tour in Afghanistan and had a bachelor’s degree in airport management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He was also an accomplished, self-taught photographer.

Many in Maricopa came to know Kunins, locally named Petey Wheatstraw as a photographer, through his time spent working out. He was involved in fitness events and boot camps, usually wearing his trademark white T-shirt.

So a fund-raiser in his honor on Aug. 7 was called the White T Workout. It was organized by Eric’s friend Dionne Nash-Smith.

“I called him my roadie, aka Little Brother,” Nash-Smith said with a laugh.

Rain and lightning chased the event out of Copper Sky Regional Park, but Anytime Fitness made room for the workout. Participants paid $5 to be put through their paces in a cheerful atmosphere. Maria Kunins came to watch.

Later, more friends of Eric joined them at Native Grill & Wings for a celebration dinner. Proceeds from the evening went to the family.

Kunins was interred at Florida National Cemetery.

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