Growing up, Christopher and Michael Pekny were brothers and best friends. It only made sense that when 28-year-old Christopher was preparing to celebrate the upcoming birth of his first child, his little brother was right there beside him.
“My brother Michael and my brother Chris were so incredibly close,” Peter Pekny, their oldest brother, told The Washington Post early Tuesday morning. “‘Chris and Mike’ – it was one name. They were always, always together.”
And so the two men were together Sunday morning, tinkering in a garage in Liberty, N.Y., to rig a small device to emit a pink-or-blue burst during the grand finale of a gender-reveal party planned for later that evening.
But the homemade device unexpectedly malfunctioned, killing the expectant father and seriously injuring his 27-year-old brother, New York State Police said in a statement Monday. Police are still investigating the cause of the explosion, but no criminal charges have stemmed from the accident.
“It has been two nights in a row of not being able to sleep, waiting, hoping to hear that this is all some crazy misunderstanding,” Pekny told The Post. “But we all know that’s not the reality here.”
Gender-reveal parties, which have roots in a 2008 parenting blog, have turned dangerous in recent years, as excited couples have opted for increasingly elaborate stunts to share whether they are having a boy or a girl. A novelty cannon killed a Michigan man at a gender-reveal party earlier this month. A soon-to-be grandmother died in Iowa after shrapnel from a homemade explosive device struck her chest in 2019. The parties have also sparked wildfires and caused a plane crash in recent years.
The tragic accidents, often caused by unintended explosions, leave families grieving instead of celebrating.
Christopher Pekny, who towered at 6-foot-5 before he donned his work boots, was an avid outdoorsman who hunted and fished in his spare time, his brother said. He was also quite handy – the middle Pekny brother worked for a masonry company and knew a fair number of hands-on technical skills from electrical wiring to repairing a diesel engine.
Still a kid at heart, Christopher had fully embraced his role as a soon-to-be father, his brother said.
“He was finally ready to settle down and he was so happy to be a dad,” Peter Pekny told The Post. “He was just this big kid, ready to be a man. And this shouldn’t have happened.”
The eldest Pekny brother said Christopher was the kind of person who would drop everything to help someone in need.
“If you were three hours away, laying in a ditch somewhere, he’d make it in two,” he said.
While working at the family’s diner in Livingston Manor, N.Y., Christopher once drove an elderly customer to the hospital in the middle of his shift after the man collapsed in the parking lot, his brother said. The man survived, and still comes into the Robin Hood Diner to this day, he added.
Following the news of Christopher’s death, Peter Pekny said friends, neighbors and even regular diners at their family-owned restaurant have offered support.
“They all want to be there for us the same way that Chris would be there in a moment’s notice for anyone else,” he told The Post. “And I think that’s the greatest tribute to the type of person that he was.”
Michael Pekny was also injured in the accidental explosion, which shattered his right knee.
Peter Pekny told The Post that his younger brother had survived a surgery to reconstruct his knee and doctors said he would eventually regain mobility in both of his legs. But he said the loss of Christopher would weigh heavily on the 27-year-old even after he has physically healed.
“With all the wonders of modern medicine, they can piece his legs back together, but they still don’t have anything to piece back together a broken heart,” he said.