Lime Tree Apartments is on the 400 block of Southeast 13th Court, just south and across 10th Street from Deerfield Beach Middle School. It was there that Michael Brewer's pursuers caught up with him on Monday. They doused him with a flammable liquid and set him on fire, burning the seventh-grader over 75 percent of his body.
Hours later, the property was rife with deputies, investigators, news crews. By Tuesday, the property manager was trying to set the record straight.
As do many middle school students. Lime Tree Apartments resident Providencia Maldonado said when school lets out, the sound of kids heading home is a noisy afternoon interlude at the serene complex of 20 apartments. "It's a safe place to live. It's quiet here," she said.
Clusters of middle school students frequently cut through the maze of 10 buildings, said Jose Jimenez, the property's groundskeeper of 19 months. Jimenez said he was technically on vacation but standing near his apartment Monday when one such group of kids caught his eye.
"There were a bunch of kids running around, next to the office, and the next thing I knew, the bushes were on fire and there was a kid in the pool," he said. "He was screaming. He was crying. He was screaming. I called 911 to get help for him, but I was not qualified to touch him."
Even as the Broward County Sheriff's Department was announcing on Tuesday the arrest of five charged with setting fire to Brewer, it was clear that healing would require so much more. At Deerfield Beach Middle School, where the 15-year-old is one of almost 1,500 students, the school's new principal, Christine Flynn, drew the community in around her.
"She does not want to speak with the media," said spokesman Marcie Smith of Flynn, who left as principal of Westglades Middle School to join Deerfield Beach Middle School this year. "It's her choice, in dealing with the school and with the crisis counselors."
Those counselors were fully occupied Tuesday. Marsy Smith, public relations specialist with Broward County Public Schools, said a social worker and school psychologist were working with guidance department personnel to help students come to terms with the shock and despair resulting from the attack.
"They go to the classroom the student normally would be in ... answering questions and dispelling myths or rumors," she said. "They stay with the facts and listen to student concerns. If there is a need for individual assistance, they ... meet one on one and stay at the school as long as they are needed to provide assistance and support."
The apartment complex may not regain its serenity for a while. On Tuesday afternoon, a television truck hadn't moved from a spot on the west side since the night before. Reporters called. A victim's advocate stopped by.
And residents said they couldn't stop replaying the horror of the day before.
"I couldn't even sleep last night," Maldonado said. "The thing that happened yesterday? It [must] never happen again."
Burning of Deerfield boy leaves community shaken
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