The Broward Sheriff's Office has arrested five juveniles who investigators said set a 15-year-old boy on fire because he reported the attempted theft of a bicycle on Sunday night.
Michael Brewer, 15, was hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns over 65 percent of his body after the Monday afternoon attack, a doctor said.
On Tuesday night, Local 10's Roger Lohse spoke with the mother of one of the teenagers charged in the attack. She did not want to be identified, but said detectives told her that her son was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
?I don't know what he could do once the kid was in flames, except go over there and catch on fire as well. But my prayers go out to him and his family," she said.
Sgt. Steve Feeley, an investigator on the case, said Brewer owed $40 to one of the suspects for a video game and that the suspect tried to steal Brewer's bicycle in retaliation on Sunday. When Brewer cooperated with the police investigation into the attempted bike theft, the others got angry and set him on fire, police said.
"In my 31 years, you know, we say it's the most heinous crime I've ever seen," said Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti.
BSO said the incident happened at about 3:15 p.m. Monday at the Lime Tree Apartments, located in the 400 block of Southeast 13th Court.
Police said five schoolmates attacked Brewer, pouring rubbing alcohol on him and setting him on fire using a lighter. Investigators said they found a lighter at the scene.
"(One of the suspects) told him, 'Pour it on him. Pour it on him,' at which time a second suspect poured it on and a third suspect lit him on fire," Feeley said.
"I saw a kid throwing something at the other kid, and the next thing you know, the kid was on fire," said witness Provindencia Maldenero. "He was up in fire."
A resident used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames, and then Brewer jumped into a swimming pool, investigators said.
Brewer was taken to Broward General Medical Center and was later airlifted from there to the burn unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Three suspects were arrested Monday evening, and another two were arrested Tuesday, BSO said. The five teenage suspects are being charged as juveniles.
Three of the suspects appeared in court Tuesday and were emotionless. Their parents had no comment.
Four suspects are charged with aggravated battery. One of the suspects faces a charge of attempted second-degree murder, according to BSO.
Investigators said they were disturbed why what they have seen.
"A couple of them last night were laughing about it. One of them that was arrested today seems genuinely sorry for what they did," Feeley said.
"I have a 15-year-old son myself. I can't imagine him being in a situation like this where he's scarred for life. That's devastating for a parent," Lamberti said.
Police said they do not believe the attack was premeditated.
Lamberti said the violence in schools and communities needs to stop.
"As parents and as leaders, we need to step up to the plate and do a better job of teaching our kids right from wrong," Lamberti said. "This was blatantly wrong. This group of kids thought that because a kid may have snitched them out and turned them in because they were trying to steal his dad's bike, in their mind, it was OK to set him on fire."
Three of the suspects remained at the juvenile detention center Tuesday evening. The two others have not yet made an initial appearance in court.
Victim Remains Heavily Sedated
Brewer was sedated on Tuesday because of the pain. He was in critical condition.
Brewer's head, arms and torso suffered the most damage, and months of surgery will likely follow. Lamberti said Brewer could be hospitalized for five months.
Doctors said that in addition to the apparent skin damage, burn injuries can affect the body systematically. Brewer could have to undergo skin grafts and other therapy over the next few months, Local 10's Glenna Milberg reported.
Brewer was not well enough to see visitors Tuesday, but some friends did try.
"I was asking for him and they're not letting anybody go see him," said friend Kevin Lirio. "(His family) was devastated."