The "tearjerker" personal stories on reality TV shows are always kind of annoying. You can tell from a mile away that the producers are attempting to hit an emotional note, and in some instances you can feel the person participating in said competition loading up with their tears to try and curry favor with the audience. It's a cynical outlook, I know, but there are moments you can really feel a person's fight against adversity, like what happened with Ben Watkins and his parents.
How did Ben Watkins die?
MasterChef Junior is a kid-centric cooking show where youngsters with gastronomical tendencies are pitted against one another in an enriching competition that not only tests their skills but helps expose them to a high-stakes, highly pressurized cooking situation with some of the industry's most accomplished culinary professionals.
Ben Watkins appeared on Season 6 of the show.
The young man was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 13, hitting a reverse lottery of sorts: Doctors told his family he was only one of six people in the whole world who were found to have Angiomatoid Fibrous Histiocytoma. He passed away from the cancer at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago on Nov. 16, 2020, at only 14 years old.
His family released a statement on his passing on a GoFundMe page to help cover the costs of his funeral. He was raised by his grandmother and uncle, who stated Ben was "the strongest person we've ever known."
The young man always had dreams of becoming a chef and would cook at Big Ben's Bodacious BBQ and Delicatessen in Gary, Ind. with his parents before they died.
When Chef Gordon Ramsay and Ben's fellow Season 6 competitors had heard of the young man's battle with cancer, they sent him a special video wishing him a speedy recovery. Ben had competed when he was 11 and had become a fan favorite due to his enthusiasm in the face of personal adversity, and how he rarely felt sorry for himself.
What happened to Ben Watkins' parents? A tragic murder-suicide.
Ben's grandmother and uncle, Donna and Anthony Edwards, don't know what caused Ben's father to kill his wife and then himself. Anthony did say that the couple were discussing a possible divorce, and Ben's father had cancer himself. The Times of Northwest Indiana reported that police were only made aware of the murder-suicide after they visited Ben's family home for a welfare evaluation. Ben was reportedly present in the house when his father killed his mother then himself.
The Violence Policy Center reported an average of 11 murder-suicides occurred each week in the United States alone in 2019. 89 percent of these cases were carried out with firearms and 65 percent of them included intimate partners, with a whopping 95 percent of the victims being women, as per Heavy.
Ben's parents owned two businesses in Gary, Ind. and Big Ben's BBQ was named after the young man. His mother, Leila Edwards, "taught mosaic, stained glass and industrial sewing at a learning center for steelworkers" as per the Post-Tribune.
Following Ben's parents' deaths, his uncle Anthony became his legal guardian. At the time, members of Ben's community raised almost $30,000 to establish a trust fund for him.
Despite the fact that Ben's father was diagnosed with cancer, there's no hereditary indication as to why he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor: "There’s no cause, and it’s not hereditary so it didn’t come from his parents. We still don’t know, [but] Ben has found peace with it, though," Anthony told the Post-Tribune.
Ben was known for having a personality that could "just light up a room," a trait his mother shared as well. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this trying time.