It wasn't too long ago that Michael Brewer would hang out with Denver and Jeremy Jarvis, his schoolmates at Deerfield Beach Middle School.
But now the Jarvis brothers are among five teenagers accused of taunting Brewer for calling the police on a friend, throwing rubbing alcohol on Brewer and setting him on fire.
Sherry Jarvis trembled Wednesday afternoon as she issued an apology to Brewer and his family, unable because of the criminal charges against her sons to offer anything more than words of grief, sorrow and prayers for the victim's recovery.
"This is a horrible incident that never should have occurred," she said outside the law offices of the attorneys representing Denver, 15, and Jeremy, 13. Standing beside her were her husband, Denver Sr., and their teenage daughters, Elyse and Danielle.
Jeremy Jarvis, the youngest of the five defendants, is likely to be released next week. He's been charged with aggravated battery and could face an attempted murder charge, but under Florida law he could only be charged as a juvenile. His lawyer, Stephen Melnick, said the boy will be taken to a relative's home outside the South Florida region and will be home-schooled.
The situation is more complicated for Denver Jarvis, arrested for aggravated battery but who could face a charge of attempted murder as an adult. Investigators say it was he who poured the rubbing alcohol on Brewer.
The other three accused in the Oct. 12 attack are: Matthew Bent, 15, accused of leading the others in retaliation after Brewer told 911 that Bent tried to steal a $500 bicycle; Jesus Mendez, 16, accused of actually setting Brewer on fire with a lighter; and Steven Shelton, 16, accused of being part of the group that surrounded Brewer in the Limetree Village apartment complex in Deerfield Beach.
All five are set to be formally charged next week.
Inside Melnick's office late Wednesday, members of the Jarvis family said they've had to endure taunts and threats from acquaintances and strangers while coming to terms with the fact that their sons are accused of a horrific attack against someone they all considered a friend.
"He would spend the night," said Denver Jarvis Sr. "They would go to the movies. Go to the park. He'd pitch and help when the boys had chores to do, sweeping the carport and what have you."
Danielle said she was in shock. "I've watched all of them grow up together, hanging out in the neighborhood, riding their bikes," she said. "I'd never expect something like this to happen."
The family has had to stay away from their home out of concern for their safety, Sherry Jarvis said. She said she tried to call Brewer's mother, Valerie, shortly after the attack and the arrests, but understandably, the victim's mother wasn't interested in talking.
"I would have taken the same attitude," Sherry Jarvis said.
Lawyers stopped the family from answering specific questions about the boys' upbringing, including the family's reportedly troubled history. Both parents have had alcohol-related arrests, and Denver Sr. was accused in 1984 of tossing a fiery Molotov cocktail into a neighbor's yard. Child welfare officials have intervened before, and a guardian ad litem has been appointed for the Jarvis brothers in the wake of the latest allegations.
Still, Denver Sr. said, people who think his children are "monsters" don't know them.
"Something terribly bad has happened, and they're in the middle of it," he said. "A lot of people know my boys and know they're not what they're being portrayed as. They were my babies."
Family members of Michael Brewer, who is in critical condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, declined to comment late Wednesday.
Rafael Olmeda may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4694.