Ben placed in the top 18 on the show, and became a fan favorite, especially as viewers learned of his family history.
In September 2017, Ben’s father, Michael Watkins, shot and killed Ben’s mother, Leila Edwards, before killing himself in Gary, Ind., according to The Chicago Tribune. Ben’s grandmother and uncle became his legal guardians.
At that time, Ben had voiced his aspirations for becoming a chef and had dreamed of having his own restaurant, much like his father, who had opened Big Ben’s Bodacious Barbecue & Deli in Gary. The restaurant, The Tribune noted, was named after Ben.
Ben had also worked at his father’s restaurant, the newspaper said, running the cash register, taking orders and selling his own homemade cookies, brownies, cinnamon rolls and banana bread. He attributed his baking skills to his mother, saying, “My mom taught me everything she knew. Or I just picked it up by watching her.”
A statement on the show’s Instagram account said Ben had a “remarkably positive attitude” and was a “tremendous role model” for chefs of all ages.
Gordon Ramsay, the celebrity chef and host of “MasterChef Junior,” said in a statement on Tuesday that Ben was a talented home cook and a strong young man. “Your young life had so many tough turns, but you always persevered,” Mr. Ramsay said.
Not long after his 13th birthday, Ben was diagnosed with angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma, his family said. The condition is a rare soft tissue tumor that most commonly appears in children and young adults, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Mr. Edwards, Ben’s uncle, told The Tribune in August that doctors two years ago had thought that a growing tumor in Ben’s neck was malformed lymph nodes. “But even after treatment, the tumor kept bleeding,” he said.
In late July, Ben began chemotherapy treatment for tumors in his lung, spine and shoulder, The Tribune said.
Ben’s family and community rallied behind him.
Katie Clark, a family friend, told the newspaper that like his mother, Ben could light up a room. “He is polite, outgoing, smart, funny, and remained that way even into adolescence, which isn’t always the case with kids entering that phase of life,” she said.