CHICAGO — Ben Watkins, the precocious teen who competed on the “MasterChef Junior” television show before losing his parents in a 2017 murder-suicide, died Monday, his family said in a statement. He was 14.
Watkins, from Gary, Indiana, was undergoing chemotherapy treatment in Chicago, the Chicago Tribune reported. He was suffering from angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma, a soft tissue tumor most commonly occurring in children and young adults, the newspaper reported. The cancer caused aggressive tumors that affected his spine, shoulder and lung, The Times of Northwest Indiana reported.
He was one of six people in the world diagnosed with the illness, WTHR reported.
“Our Ben went home to be with his mother Monday afternoon after a year-and-a-half battle with cancer,” his maternal grandmother, Donna Edwards, and uncle, Anthony Edwards, said in a statement. “Ben was and will always be the strongest person we’ve known.”
Watkins appeared in Season 6 of the culinary contest show, hosted by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, when he was 11 years old.
Ramsay and several “MasterChef Junior” contestants sent Watkins a video of encouragement in August after he began receiving chemotherapy.
The teen became a fixture at Big Ben’s Bodacious BBQ and Delicatessen, the Gary restaurant owned by his parents, cooking and manning the front counter, the Times reported.
“We were praying for a different outcome,” Edwards told the Tribune. "But Ben’s lungs could no longer give him the air he needed to breathe.
“It’s been devastating.”
On Sept. 16, 2017, Watkins' father, Michael Watkins, 46, fatally shot his wife, Leila Edwards, 43, at their Gary home, the Tribune reported.
Investigators ruled the case a murder-suicide, the newspaper reported.
After Ben Watkins’s episodes of “MasterChef Junior” aired in early 2018, his family created a trust fund of nearly $30,000, US magazine reported.
The teen’s family, who started a GoFundMe account to defray medical costs for Ben Watkins, turned the fundraiser into a memorial account.