Nearly three years after losing his parents in a murder-suicide, MasterChef Junior contestant Ben Watkins died Monday from cancer aged 14, his family said. Watkins, from Gary, Indiana, showed off his culinary skills when, at 11, he joined the 2018 season of MasterChef Junior hosted by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
His death comes months after it was reported that he was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for a rare form of cancer called Angiomatoid Fibrous Histiocytoma, a soft tissue tumor that has affected only six people in the world, including the MasterChef Junior contestant. The disease caused aggressive tumors that affected his spine, shoulder and lung, The Times of Northwest Indiana 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.”
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Apart from appearing on the MasterChef Junior show, Watkins also cooked at his family’s restaurant, Big Ben’s Bodacious Barbecue, Baker & Deli in Indiana. In August when he began receiving chemotherapy, TV chef Ramsay and “MasterChef Junior” contestants sent Watkins a video of encouragement.
On Tuesday, Ramsay paid an emotional tribute to Watkins. “Ben you were an incredibly talented home cook and even stronger young man. Your young life had so many tough turns but you always persevered,” he wrote on Twitter. “Sending all the love to Ben Watkins’ family with this terrible loss Gx.”
Three years ago, on September 16, 2017, Watkins’ father, Michael Watkins, 46, fatally shot his wife, Leila Edwards, 43, while at home in Gary, according to the Tribune. The case was ruled a murder-suicide, the report added.
“After losing both his parents in September 2017, we have marvelled at Ben’s strength, courage and love for life,” the statement posted by the teen’s grandma and uncle said. “He never ever complained.”
“When Ben’s rare illness was shared with the world, he was so heartened by the outpouring of love he received from every corner of the globe – especially here in his hometown of Gary, Indiana,” the statement added.
Watkin’s family, who started a GoFundMe account to pay for his medical costs, have turned the fundraiser into a memorial account.