Watkins’ uncle and grandmother announced his death in a statement on a GoFundMe page titled “#Love4Ben” that was originally created in 2017 to support his education following his parents’ death. “After losing both of his parents in September 2017, we have marveled at Ben’s strength, courage and love for life,” the statement reads. “He never, ever complained. Ben was and will always be the strongest person we know.”
The statement continued, with Watkins’ family thanking the Indiana community for its support: “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. We cannot thank this community enough for holding our family up in prayer and for all that you’ve done. Ben suffered more than his share in his fourteen years on this Earth, but we take solace in that his suffering is finally over and in that, in the end, Ben knew he was loved by so many.”
Watkins was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma, a soft tissue tumor most commonly occurring in children and young adults, and died after undergoing treatment for 18 months.
In 2018, the aspiring chef competed in the sixth season of Gordon Ramsay’s “MasterChef Junior,” when he was 11 years old. Among the 40 contestants from the season, Watkins was part of the top 24 who competed for the winning title. He placed in the top 18.
Growing up in Indiana, Watkins spent his free time cooking at his family restaurant, Big Ben’s Bodacious BBQ and Delicatessen, until he lost both his parents, Leila Edwards and Mike Watkins, in a murder-suicide, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. The restaurant closed the month his parents died.
That year, the Miller Beach community, the neighborhood in Gary, Ind., where Ben lived, rallied around the then 13-year-old, raising more than $30,000 through the GoFundMe to support his dreams in the culinary arts and engineering.