A Deerfield Beach teenager who was set on fire is responding to his parents for the first time since he was taken to the hospital, a family friend said this morning.
Michael Brewer, 15, reached out to hold his father's hand Wednesday, said Danny Martinez, who is staying with his family.
"He had a pretty good day yesterday," Martinez said.
Brewer is being treated at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami for burns that covered more than two thirds of his body.
He was also able to nod to his mother when she asked if he liked having his feet rubbed, Martinez said. Brewer's feet are one of the few parts on his body that are not burned.
Authorities say five boys surrounded Brewer Monday afternoon outside a Deerfield Beach apartment complex, splashed him with rubbing alcohol and lit him ablaze.
The boys have been charged with aggravated assault. One of them is also charged with attempted second-degree murder.
People from all across the state and country have been calling to offer support to the victim, Martinez said.
A foundation he set up to help pay the boy's medical expenses had raised $740 in donations as of Wednesday night. Martinez said his goal is to eventually expand the foundation to help other burn victims.
"We should not look at this just as a tragedy," he said. "It could be a blessing also."
Brewer's mother said today she believes her son will survive, even as his doctor predicted his condition will worsen before it gets better.
Valerie Brewer said she has hardly been away from her son's bedside. He can't talk because he has tubes in his throat, but he makes motions with his hands and responds to her voice, she said.
She used appearances this morning on national television to make a plea for the public to do more to end violence among young people.
"People need to really wake up and see what is going on with this generation," Brewer said on ABC's Good Morning America show.
Dr. Nicholas Namias, director of the hospital's Burn Center, said it was premature to talk about Michael Brewer being out of the woods as far as his recovery is concerned.
"He isn't even in the woods yet," Namias said on the CBS Early Show.
Brewer said her son has sat up in bed and tried to tell her to take the tubes out of his throat. He asks for water, and then goes back to sleep, she says.
"It's just a big blur. It's heart ache and pain," she told CBS.
Relatives of the five accused boys expressed their own shock Wednesday that anyone, let alone their own family members, could be accused of such a horrific crime.
"I know my brothers didn't intentionally try to hurt anyone," said Danielle Jarvis, 19, whose brothers, Denver, 15, and Jeremy, 13, were arrested Monday night. "Now, they're in a real spot. I'mscared for them."
But investigators say the Jarvis brothers were part of a group that lit Brewer ablaze.
The other three facing aggravated assault charges are: Jesus Mendez, 15, also charged with attempted murder as the boy accused of actually lighting the fire; Steven Shelton, who turns 16 Thursday; and Matthew Bent, 15, accused of directing the attack in retaliation for his arrest Sunday for allegedly trying to steal Brewer's father's custom bicycle.
Danielle Jarvis said her brothers were hanging with a bad crowd in a bad neighborhood, but she never thought any of them were capable of the crime that left Brewer hospitalized with burns overtwo-thirds of his body.
"My brothers don't go around lighting people on fire," she said. "I don't know what possessed any of those kids to do that."
All five boys were ordered held in a juvenile detention center for 21 days. Their next court appearance is Nov. 2. Prosecutors have not said whether they'll attempt to have them tried as adults.
Shelton's mother, Patricia Hollis, walked out of the courtroom in tears after his first appearance Wednesday morning. She said she didn't want to talk about her son, but earlier she told WFOR-Ch. 4that her son was not involved in the incident.
"I feel so sorry for [Brewer], I really do. And it's sad. It really is," Hollis said. "My prayers go out to him and his family."
Outside Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami Wednesday, doctors said Brewer faces a long road to recovery. He remains in intensive care and on a ventilator, Namias said.
"The next step will be an operation to remove burn tissue and replace it with either temporary grafts or to start with grafts from his own body," Namias said.
And he said Brewer's condition will worsen before it improves.
"The easiest days are the first days," he said. He said Brewer's survival and recovery will depend on how well his body responds over the next couple of weeks to the consequences of being burnedalive.
Arrest reports show all five suspects are students at Deerfield Beach Middle School, though that is disputed by the attorney representing Denver Jarvis.
At the school Wednesday, students said they were shocked by the violence of the incident, but once that shock wore off, they were not surprised to hear who was accused. The only exception wasJeremy Jarvis, the small-framed, baby-faced wisecracker more likely to get tossed out of a classroom for talking too much than for anything physical.
"He's not a bad kid," said classmate Alicia Cortez, 13, a seventh grader at the school. "His brother, he's really bad. Jeremy's pretty funny."
Jonathan Skalaranko, 13, said rumors were racing through the school Monday after Bent was arrested for trying to steal Brewer's bicycle. When word spread Tuesday about the attack, Skalaranko saidhe couldn't believe it.
"I was just shocked," he said. "I thought they were lying."
Students said Brewer was originally friends with the other boys, but that had recently changed. The Broward Sheriff's Office said that was because Bent accused Brewer of failing to repay $40 he hadborrowed to buy a video game. The attempted bicycle theft was an attempt to collect on that debt, the Sheriff's Office said, but Brewer called 911.
That got him labeled a snitch, the word used to taunt Brewer during the attack at the Lime Tree Apartments on the 400 block of Southeast 13th Court. None of the teens tried to help Brewer oncethe fire started, according to the arrest reports. Mendez, accused of setting the blaze, also got a taste of the pain Brewer felt when his arm was scorched.
Brewer jumped into a nearby pool to put out the flames, sparing the worst damage to his hands and face, doctors said.
At Deerfield Beach Middle, classmates put up posters asking for donations to help pay Brewer's medical expenses. Buckets were passed in classrooms to take up collections.
According to court records, the father of the Jarvis children also faced trouble over setting a fire decades ago. Archived Broward court records show that back in 1984 when Denver Colorado JarvisSr. was 20, he ignited and threw a Molotov cocktail into a neighbor's Pompano Beach yard.
He eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years of probation. A formal felony conviction was withheld from his criminal record.
Staff Writers Alexia Campbell and Tonya Alanez and Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report. Rafael Olmeda can be reached at rolmeda@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4694.