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Video: Boy allegedly burned by classmates speaks

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    >>> kind of power.

    >>> we'll begin this half-hour with the florida teenager who was burned by a group of florida ca classmates. we'll speak exclusively to mike brewer jr . and his family in a moment, but first here's kerry sanders .

    >> reporter: if you didn't know, you might never suspect. 15-year-old michael brewer was severely burned over 60% of his body. but outward appearances can be deceiving. doctors say the florida teenager still faces years of pain and medical attention . his life altered in an instant last october when he was surrounded by school classmates at an apartment complex off campus, doused in alcohol, and then lit on fire. authorities say it all came down to a disagreement over money owed for a video game .

    >> he's got scars that are as big as two and three-inch that protrude from his body that is scar tissue . you rub them down and you feel his elbows and his arms and his legs, it's awful.

    >> michael has undergone months of physical therapy in this room. sometimes excruciatingly painful. but he's also out in the public and smiling. as a guest at a recent miami heat game. and at a bake sale to help pay his medical bills where he personally thanked those who cared enough to help.

    >> i just want to say hi and thank you for all your prayers.

    >> reporter: the three teenagers accused of attempted murder and michael 's burning are charged as adults. as for michael , those closest to him say he's looking forward , not back.

    >> he's not so fearful anymore that people will actually talk to him.

    >> reporter: a week ago michael reached out to josie ratley. like michael , both victims of teen violences with very serious consequences. for "today," kerry sanders , nbc news, miami .

    >> we are joined exclusively by michael brewer jr ., along with his parents valerie and michael and his grandparents rene and norvin. good morning to you all. it is such a thrill, michael , to have you with us this morning. you have been through so much in the past six months. foreskin grafts you told me this morning. daily intensive physical therapy . how are you doing? how do you feel?

    >> i feel great.

    >> any pain at all?

    >> no.

    >> not even when you have to move your body or stretch?

    >> just one side of me.

    >> one side? i understand that you've actually gone back to some of your sports activity?

    >> yes.

    >> what are you doing?

    >> skateboard, basketball, baseball. riding bikes.

    >> you're not afraid of falling or --

    >> no. i fall, i just get right back up, try again.

    >> mom, your heart must be like --

    >> it's tough sometimes.

    >> i know when michael was attacked back in october, you came on the show and we spoke to you remote from the hospital and you said at the time, doctors weren't sure if he would survive. but you felt differently. you just knew your son was going to make it because you said he had a lot of determination.

    >> absolutely.

    >> and courage.

    >> yes. lot of courage, lot of determination and incredible will to live.

    >> there was so much pain that you had to endure though, michael . where did that determination come from looking back?

    >> i have no idea.

    >> none at all.

    >> no.

    >> just every day, just a great will to live?

    >> yeah.

    >> dad, when you see your son now, knowing what he's gone through, what goes through your mind?

    >> just happy that he's still here and i knew he was going to get through it, pull through it the way he did. but we thank god that he's still with me. i'm happy.

    >> i know when you moved back home, mike, when you got out of the hospital this summer , you didn't go back to your old house because you were scared. you moved in with your grandma and grandfather in a different town. finally tomorrow you are starting school again. are you excited about that? what are you feeling going back to school ?

    >> i'm excited. can't wait.

    >> why is that?

    >> i kind of miss school .

    >> you do.

    >> yeah.

    >> what do you miss about it?

    >> friends and stuff.

    >> so it will be a whole new set of friends .

    >> yeah.

    >> when you start up again. i'm sure as a mom, it 's wonderful to see your son going back to school . on the other hand , you won't be there to protect him again. and that's got to be a bit of a scary feeling.

    >> it is. very apprehensive. i know i have to cut the cord again? i've been very protective of him, not letting him get very far from me. i'm just fearful. but i know he's a strong young man. he's determined and i know the school will protect him and he needs to get back out into the world and start experiencing real life again.

    >> i know, mike, you wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you. i understand your hospital room was covered, letters from all over the world . right?

    >> yeah. i think that's the most thing that kept me alive, was all these prayers and believing in me.

    >> and rooting for you, pushing you to get better. rene, you have been very proactive in terms of guesting out there and talking to kids about violence in the schools and school bullying . what is the message you are trying to get across and why did you decide to do that?

    >> well, i think whenever anything like this happens to a family , you've got to taking it positive from it. if you don't, it means it was for nothing. i don't think that -- i don't think that mikey's suffering for all those months should be for nothing. and i think that we need to become better leaders, the grown-ups, the adults. i think that we are all in our own domain, our own leaders, and i think we have to stand up, be more respectful of each other and set a much better example for our children .

    >> you set a wonderful example, mike jr ., when you see to see your friend josie in the hospital who was attacked, allegedly over a text message . was she aware that you were there and what did you say to her and her family ?

    >> i hope she gets better and i hope i see her again. get stronger like i did every day.

    >> get stronger every day. yeah.

    >> if she doesn't stop believing in herself, she can do it.

    >> do you ever think about how strange it is, two kids from the same school . can you make sense of it?

    >> yeah, i can. yeah. this school is terrible. i don't know why i even went to the school .

    >> well, you're in a new school now and a safe place . want to end with you, norvin, when you look at your grandson now, is he a different kid having gone through it?

    >> yeah.

    >> in what way?

    >> i think he's a little more ca careful, if that can be possible. he sticks a little closer to home . lets you know if he's going someplace. easier to keep track of.

    >> i think they're going to be keeping track of you pretty tightly, for sure. mike jr ., thank you so much . the entire brewer family , thank you for making the trip here to new york . be careful on the skateboard. makes me nervous, too.

    >>> now let's get a check

TODAY contributor
updated 4/20/2010 9:27:53 AM ET 2010-04-20T13:27:53

Six months after being burned over nearly two-thirds of his body, allegedly by classmates, a Florida teen is glad to be going back to school — and doubly glad it’s not the same school.

“This school is terrible. I don’t know why I went to this school,” 15-year-old Michael Brewer Jr. told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Tuesday in New York.

Michael was referring to Deerfield Beach Middle School, which he had been attending in October when he and another boy had a difference of opinion over a $40 video game and a stolen bicycle. On a Monday by an apartment complex swimming pool, the one boy and several friends allegedly doused Michael with rubbing alcohol and set him on fire. Michael likely saved his own life by leaping into the pool to put out the flames.

Classmate attacked
On March 17, as Michael was still recovering from the second- and third-degree burns that necessitated four skin grafts, one of his classmates at the middle school, Josie Ratley, was allegedly assaulted by a 15-year-old boy who was enraged over a texting exchange the two had. The boy slammed her head into the pavement before kicking her head repeatedly with steel-toed boots.

Michael visited Josie in the hospital while she was still in a coma. The girl has since come out of the coma, but has suffered severe neurological damage that prevents her from moving her right arm, speaking and swallowing.

Video: Text-rage victim recovering from attack “I hope she gets better, and I hope I see her again,” Michael said of Josie. “As soon as she starts believing in herself, she can do it.”

Michael surprised doctors by leaving the hospital for Christmas, much earlier than expected. He said that all the people who wrote and e-mailed him to send along their prayers helped him recover.

“I think that’s the most thing that kept me alive, was all these prayers and believing in me,” he said.

He is set to begin attending classes in a middle school in another Florida city on Wednesday.

“I’m excited; can’t wait,” he told Vieira. “I kind of miss school.” Asked what he misses most, he replied, “Friends and stuff.”

Active despite scars
Michael still has scars from the burns and he was wearing blue compression sleeves under his shirt to protect his arms. But he said he feels no pain. “I feel great,” he told Vieira.

He’s recovered enough to go back to his favorite sports: skateboarding, basketball, baseball and riding his bike. “If I fall, I just get back up and try it over again,” he said.

Michael Brewer appeared on TODAY with his father, Michael Sr., and mother, Valerie.
Michael’s parents and paternal grandparents joined him on TODAY. His mother, Valerie, had told Vieira in late November that she was inspired by her son’s courage and determination to get better and leave the hospital. Even though doctors said he was initially in danger of not pulling through, his parents say they always believed he would make it.

Vieira asked Valerie what her son has that allowed him to pull through in such good shape.

“Lot of courage, lot of determination and an incredible will to live,” she said.

Video: Boys charged for setting teen on fire “Where does it come from?” Vieira asked the boy.

Michael shrugged and said, “I have no idea.”

“I knew he was going to pull through it. Thank God he’s still with me. I’m happy,” said the teen’s father, Michael Brewer Sr.

Valerie said it won’t be easy letting Michael go to school on his own again. But she’s also confident that his new school will make sure he stays safe.

Video game and bike
“I’m very apprehensive. I know I have to cut the cord again. I’ve been very protective of him, not letting him get very far from me. I’m just fearful,” Valerie said. “I know he’s a very strong young man. He’s determined. I know the school will protect him. He needs to get back out into the world and start experiencing real life again.”

Video: Police: Boy set on fire for bike The events leading up to the attack on Michael began when 15-year-old Matthew Bent gave him a video game and expected him to pay $40 for it, according to the Broward County Sheriff. Michael never paid for the game, so Bent tried to steal a $500 custom bike that belonged to Brewer’s father, police said.

Michael reported the theft and Bent was arrested. When he was released, he and four others found Michael at the swimming pool, police said. Three of the boys — Bent, Denver Jarvis, 15, and Jesus Mendez, 16 — were charged as adults with one count of attempted murder in the second degree in the attack. Two other boys were not charged.

A call for leadership
Michael’s grandmother, Reenie Brewer, has become an activist since the attack, lobbying for adults to take more responsibility.

Video: ‘Violence has to stop,’ mom says “I think whenever anything like this happens to a family, you’ve got to take something positive from it. If you don’t, it means it was for nothing. I don’t think that Mikey’s suffering for all those months should be for nothing,” she said. “I think that we need to become better leaders — the grown-ups, the adults. I think we have to stand up and be more respectful of each other and set a much better example for our children.”

Vieira asked Reenie's husband, Norvin Brewer, how his grandson has changed since the assault.

“I think he’s a little carefuller. He sticks a little closer to home; lets you know if he’s going someplace,” he replied. “He’s easier to keep track of.”

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