The 15-year-old Pompano Beach boy mowed neighbors' lawns, volunteered with yard sales at church, did his homework and was an avid basketball player, his family said.
Bent's mother spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday, saying her family is remorseful for the attack on a teen, Michael Brewer, who was doused with rubbing alcohol and set on fire Oct. 12 in Deerfield Beach. Matthew Bent is one of three suspects charged in the attack.
"We are very, very sorry for what has happened to this little boy, Michael Brewer," said Bent's mother, Cheri Bent, 40, of Pompano Beach. "You would never imagine in a million years that your child would even have something to do with that."
Brewer has remained hospitalized in critical condition, recovering from second- and third-degree burns over two-thirds of his body. He had a tube in his throat removed Tuesday and is now breathing on his own, said Dr. Nicholas Namias, medical director of the Burn Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. But Namias cautioned there was a chance the tube could "go back in."
The tube was removed as Brewer's sister, Malissa Durkee, celebrated her birthday and one of his cousins went into labor. "We're all just elated," said Patti Gendron, Michael Brewer's great-aunt.
Sitting Tuesday in the office of her son's lawyer, Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes, Cheri Bent recalled how Matthew Bent and Michael Brewer were friends. When Brewer visited the Bent family home after school, "they would go to the park" to play basketball, she said.
His mother took it as a sign of maturity and independence that Bent also mowed neighbors' lawns and helped with yard sales at St. Peter's Church. She said her son's yard work impressed neighbors so much, they bought lawn materials for him as a sign of support.
"Where kids were looking for trouble, he was doing something to stay out of trouble," she said.
Before Matthew Bent was arrested, he lived with his parents and four of his six siblings. His two eldest sisters, a 21-year-old nursing school graduate and a 22-year-old college student, live elsewhere in Florida, Cheri Bent said.
Matthew Bent's father, Dennis Bent, 43, has had several run-ins with the law, including a 1993 stabbing incident in Boca Raton where he pleaded guilty to burglary and battery, state records show. But Dennis Bent's past "isn't reflective" of the family, Weekes said.
Meanwhile, Matthew Bent remained jailed without bond Tuesday, along with two other teens, after they were charged as adults with second-degree attempted murder. The other two youths charged were Denver Jarvis, 15, who is accused of pouring rubbing alcohol on Brewer, and Jesus Mendez, 16, accused of using a lighter to set Brewer on fire.
Prosecutors declined to file any charges, at least for now, against two other teens initially arrested in the attack. Those two boys, including Jarvis' younger brother, were accused of being "part of the group" that surrounded Brewer.
The day before the fiery attack, Bent was accused of trying to steal a $500 custom bicycle that belonged to Brewer's father. The Sheriff's Office called the attack on Brewer an act of retaliation for Bent's arrest on the attempted theft charge.
But Weekes disputed the idea that Bent was a ringleader. He argued Bent had more in common with the youths who watched events unfold than those who poured the rubbing alcohol and lighted it.
Weekes said he planned to ask prosecutors to reconsider the decision to charge Bent as an adult.
"Matthew Bent is not the type of child who should be cast away for 25 years to the rest of his life," Weekes said. "He has redeeming qualities and he does have something to offer."
Staff Writers Rafael A. Olmeda and Sofia Santana contributed to this report.
Juan Ortega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4701.