Justin Hunter’s senior year of high school was supposed to be major. The Atlanta area star football player was looking forward to offers from courting colleges while enjoying his final season.
Now, if football resumes, it’ll be the first season he has played without his parents on the sidelines.
Justin, 17, lost both his parents within days of each other to the coronavirus. Neither of them had yet turned 60.
Eugene Hunter Jr., 59, was an accomplished smooth jazz musician who in 2015 released an album called “It’s My Time.” Angie Hunter, 57, was a human resources executive at Primerica, a multilevel marketing company that sells insurance.
The two were married for over 30 years, and Justin is their only child.
“I never really thought about losing my parents to this,” Justin told CNN.
The couple died days after testing positive
Justin said he’s not sure how they became infected. Angie took every precaution when she went out since the pandemic began — she’d wear a mask and gloves whenever she went to the grocery store and disinfected groceries before bringing them back inside.
Eugene was the first to test positive, and his condition deteriorated so rapidly that Justin could hardly believe what was happening was real. He died July 26.
His dad’s death tore him up, Justin said. He’d hardly had time to process his grief when four days later, his mother died from coronavirus complications, too.
Heartbreak turned to anger. He’d been robbed of both parents. He said he’d never thought that he could lose his family to the coronavirus, especially after the precautions they took.
“They took all the right steps to make our family safe, and even doing that, they still passed away from the virus,” he said.
Eugene and Angie remembered
Eddie Johnson met Eugene and Angie in the early 2000s when they lived in the same Georgia subdivision. His oldest son was born on the same day as Justin, a “connecting piece” Johnson said that bonded him with the couple.
Johnson saw the Hunters less as they all raised their children, but whenever he ran into Eugene and Angie, he’d hear all about Justin. The Hunters’ pride for their son drove almost every conversation, said Johnson, an author and motivational speaker.
Eugene and Angie were almost always together when Johnson would see them, often out in town or at the restaurant where Eugene played saxophone on Fridays.
“It would explain the love that they have for each other and the love that they taught Justin,” he said. “They left him with a legacy.”
Before he became sick, Eugene would livestream saxophone concerts on Sunday mornings during the pandemic. His friends would log on and listen in, and Angie would write down viewers’ names so Eugene could give them a shout out (and often, a compliment) between songs.
His most recent show, filmed at the beginning of July, has been viewed over 11,000 times. In it, he dedicated a saxophone rendition of “Emotion,” as covered by Destiny’s Child, to “all the emotions going on in the world today.”
Eugene was scheduled to appear on a podcast two days after his death. Instead, host Patricia M. Goins played one of his songs in full before the start of her show. She said she’d spoken to him on the phone after he agreed to appear as a guest, and they ended up spending over an hour talking about family and the nature of love.
“You could just hear the love in his voice,” Goins said of Eugene on an episode of her show last week. “He talked about family, he talked about his wife … he loved his wife.”
Goins said “his personality, his love … everything was beautiful.”
Justin implores people to wear masks
Justin said he’s working with a lawyer to determine his legal guardian, but for now, he’s staying with family. A GoFundMe set up to support him has already raised over $450,000.
He’ll spend his entire school year online, though he hopes football practice will resume as usual — he’s dedicating his season to his parents.
“They were very loving, very caring for anybody — I mean anybody,” he said. “They were some of the best people to be around.”
Justin tested positive for the coronavirus around two weeks ago, just after his father received his results. He was asymptomatic, but seeing how quickly his family fell ill rattled him. He’s imploring people to wear masks, if not for themselves, then for people they may never know, like his parents.
“This virus is very real,” he said. “This is coming from someone who watched how it could take over a person’s body.”
It still doesn’t feel real that they’re gone, he said, but he’s softened in the days since they died.
“I just felt a lot better knowing that neither of them are struggling no more,” he said. “They’re together in heaven, partying it up with God.”