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Strangers reach out to burned Deerfield Beach teen

Danny Martinez holds a photo of his brother-in-law, 15-year-old Michael Brewer of Deerfield Beach, who was set on fire Oct. 12 by a group of boys. At left is Brewer’s sister, Malissa Durkee.

Associated Press

Danny Martinez holds a photo of his brother-in-law, 15-year-old Michael Brewer of Deerfield Beach, who was set on fire Oct. 12 by a group of boys. At left is Brewer’s sister, Malissa Durkee.

MIAMI — Burn victim Michael Brewer lives in a limited world, one of bandages and painkillers.

But beyond the walls of the University of Miami-Jackson Memorial Burn Center, he is a celebrated cause.

More than a month after the Deerfield Beach teenager was attacked, the fundraisers continue, the cards still arrive and people around the globe include him in their prayers.

"My heart was just so moved, as a parent. I can't imagine it," said Eric Blevins, a South Carolina man who heard the 911 call for help and now follows Brewer's progress on the Facebook page Pray for Michael Brewer.

"Something about it gets to your soul."

The outpouring doesn't surprise Tonia Werner, a forensic psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of Florida. We can't help those who die, she explained. But we can help survivors, especially those who face a long and difficult recovery.

"We look at children as needing protection and being more vulnerable to these types of crimes and activities," Werner said. "Certainly, this has changed his life forever."

The day that changed Brewer's life forever was Oct. 12. That day, five boys from Deerfield Beach Middle School surrounded Brewer. Broward Sheriff's deputies said that Denver Colorado Jarvis doused him in rubbing alcohol, and Jesus Mendez lit him on fire.

They did it at the command of Matthew Bent, the Sheriff's Office said. Bent wanted revenge, investigators said, for a squabble over $40, a video game and a bicycle.

Prosecutors charged Jarvis, Mendez and Bent as adults with second-degree attempted murder. They remain in a Broward County jail.

Brewer was burned over 65 percent of his body. He was in the intensive care unit until last week, and doctors consider his condition guarded. He is likely to spend months in a hospital.

And thousands of strangers await what happens next.

Those strangers usually find their way to the Facebook group called Pray for Michael Brewer. It was created by Brewer's cousin, Amanda Mercier.

Among the frequent visitors is Gary Liefer, a stay-at-home dad in New Mexico. He saw Valerie Brewer's tearful interview about her son on TV and flashed back to his own teenage years in New York. He remembered being bullied and teased.

He followed the updates on Facebook, but that didn't feel like enough. He made a video about Brewer using pictures and music. He sent a copy to the family.

Inspired, he's made two more. He has ideas for another 10. "He reminded me so much of me," Liefer said. "It's like he was me out there."

Closer to home, Deputy Joe Kessling began work on a raffle to raise money for the Brewers. He teamed up with Galuppi's, a Pompano Beach restaurant, then Craig Tanner, who runs a printing company.

Each person they knew told another person, who told another person. Their raffle grew to include Miami Dolphins season tickets, helicopter rides and a weeklong cruise. Several Miami Dolphins signed autographs. Bounce houses and entertainment were donated.

They raised about $50,000, organizers said. It will be added to the bevy of donations from across South Florida that already total $130,000.

Strangers reach out to burned Deerfield Beach teen 11/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 23, 2009 10:39pm]

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