St. Paul teen describes nightmare of being burned alive

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 22, 2011 - 11:01 PM

Antoine Willis narrowly escaped being burned alive by his mother's boyfriend, but two days later, it’s keeping his nightmares at bay that is proving difficult.

Antoine Willis narrowly escaped being burned alive, but it's keeping his nightmares at bay that is proving difficult.

Two days after his mother's boyfriend, Curtis E. Reed, 54, allegedly doused the sleeping Willis with lighter fluid after a domestic altercation and lit it, the 19-year-old said he fears for his life.

"I had a dream last night that I seen him in my room," Willis said Friday at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. "When I woke up, it was just another nurse, and it scared me to death because I thought he was coming back to finish what he started."

With heavy gauze bandages wrapped around his head and covering his face, with only weary eyes and swollen lips visible, Willis' physical anguish was obvious. The muffled sobs he tried to stifle revealed deep emotional wounds as well.

"I thought I was going to die because I'd never been burned alive," he said. "It was terrible."

Threats from Reed -- who has a violent past and has been convicted of attacking Willis' mother before -- were nothing new, Willis said. But nothing serious had come of them.

Willis, listed in fair condition, is facing three to four weeks in the hospital. He suffered second- and third-degree burns to his head, neck and torso. Some injuries may be permanent, and surgery to repair the damage to his body is still a possibility, he said.

"I'm doing better. I'm still sore everywhere, though," he said, his voice raspy from the effects of inhaling lighter fluid during the attack early Wednesday.

Reed, meanwhile, made his first appearance in Ramsey County District Court on Friday. Bail was set at $100,000. He remains in custody at the Ramsey County jail and was next scheduled to appear in court Aug. 5.

Reed is charged with first-degree assault. According to the complaint, Willis' mother, Jodi Stewart, awoke to her son's screams about 7 a.m. and saw that "a fireball as big as a basketball" surrounded his head.

Reed chased Willis out of the house in the 1300 block of Ames Avenue on the East Side, continuing to spray him with the lighter fluid. Willis fled to a neighbor's house, where an ambulance was called.

Hours earlier, according to both Willis and the complaint, Reed had threatened Stewart with a knife. Willis and two of Stewart's friends intervened, beating Reed.

"There's things in the past that he's done to my mom," Willis said. "Just horrible things like beat her and slammed her head against a glass and thrown her down steps right in front of me. She just loves him so much, she didn't want to do anything about it. It's just a hard thing to go through."

Stewart said she and Curtis have had a relationship for eight years. "I don't want to talk to him," she said Friday. "I'm totally in shock. ... For him to do something like this is just outrageous."

Tensions began, Willis said, when he moved in with Reed and his mother a couple of years ago. "He has issues sometimes where he'll snap out on people for no reason, and he blames it on his pills," Willis said. "I think because my mom and I have such a connection, when I moved in, he got jealous. I don't think he wanted me to be there, to tell you the truth."

Willis said he fears for his safety, and that of his family, if Reed is ever freed. "I don't want to see him ever again."

A fund has been set up to help Willis, whose family has no medical insurance. Donations can be made in his name at any Bremer Bank.

Jim Anderson • 651-735-0999

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  • Jodi Stewart and son Antoine Willis

  • "“I thought I was going to die because I’d never been burned alive,” Antoine Willis said. “It was terrible.”

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