MasterChef Junior contestant Ben Watkins died on Monday at the Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. He was 14. The cause of death was a rare form of cancer, angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma, a soft tissue tumor most commonly occurring in children and young adults.
"Our Ben went home to be with his mother this afternoon after a year-and-a-half-long battle with Cancer. After losing both of his parents in September 2017, we have marveled at Ben’s strength, courage and love for life," said Watkins' uncle and grandmother in a statement. "He never, ever complained. Ben was and will always be the strongest person we know." The statement continued and thanked the residents of Indiana for their 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," the statement continued. "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 competed during the sixth season of Gordon Ramsay's MasterChef Junior in 2018. He was 11 years old at the time. He ultimately placed in the top-18 after facing off with 39 other competitors. Following his time on the show, Watkins was diagnosed with angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma and underwent 18 months of treatment. According to a statement released by his family at the time, Watkins was one of only six people in the entire world diagnosed with this illness.
"My heart breaks for this sweet boy's family. I watched him on Masterchef junior and he was one of my favorites. I'm so sorry for your loss. God bless you sweet Ben now you can rest with your mom. I'm praying for everyone that loved him," one supporter wrote on GoFundMe after learning about Watkins' death. Several others joined in and offered condolences to the family.
According to Variety, Watkins grew up in Indiana and cooked at his family restaurant, Big Ben’s Bodacious BBQ and Delicatessen. However, he lost both of his parents in a murder-suicide, which led to the restaurant closing. The residents of Gary then showed their support by raising more than $30,000 through a GoFundMe to help him continue on the culinary path, as well as becoming an engineer. The campaign has since raised $190,840.