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Times wires

DEERFIELD BEACH - A Deerfield Beach seventh-grader who was set on fire in an attack by five other young teens is responding to his parents for the first time since he was taken to a hospital, a family member said Thursday.

Michael Brewer, 15, reached out to hold his father's hand Wednesday, said Danny Martinez, speaking for the family.

Brewer was being treated for burns that covered more than two-thirds of his body. His feet, hands and face were largely spared from the flames.

Brewer's mother, Valerie, said Thursday she believes her son will survive, even as his doctor predicted his condition will worsen before it gets better.

"He isn't even in the woods yet," said Dr. Nicholas Namias, director of the Burn Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where the boy was being treated.

Valerie Brewer used appearances Thursday morning on national television to make a plea for the public to do more to end violence among young people.

Authorities say five boys motivated by revenge surrounded Brewer on Monday afternoon outside a Deerfield Beach apartment complex, splashed him with rubbing alcohol they found earlier and lit him ablaze.

The boys have been charged with aggravated assault. The one who lit the fire is also charged with attempted second-degree murder.

Authorities have said the attack appeared impulsive rather than premeditated.

Still, knowing that two of the teens laughed when authorities confronted them about the crime has added to his family's misery.

"They were five kids. One of them could have said, 'Hey, no, don't do this.' They didn't," said Martinez, "They all just went and did this. For them, it was just a laugh, but for Michael it's going to be a lifetime," he said.

The five are charged as juveniles, but the state attorney could decide to move some, or all, of them into adult court, where they could get 15 years in prison - and up to 30 years on the attempted second-degree murder charge. All of the suspects have prior juvenile criminal records, authorities said.

Relatives of the five accused boys expressed 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.

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 turned 16 Thursday; and Matthew Bent, 15, accused of directing the attack in retaliation for his arrest Sunday after Brewer reported him for trying to steal a $500 bicycle.

Information from the Miami Herald, Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale and Associated Press was used in this report.

The suspects

The five teenagers have been charged with aggravated assault.