The Tragic Death of Robbie Middleton

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28th December 2019  •  5 min read

Robbie Middleton was just 8-years-old when he was tied to a tree and set on fire in Splendora, Texas. Twelve years later, he succumbed to his injuries but not before naming his attacker as a 13-year-old boy who had sexually assaulted him two weeks prior.


The Tragic Death of Robbie Middleton

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The 28th of June, 1998, was a blistering hot day in Splendora, Texas. It was also the eighth birthday of Robbie Middleton. 

Robbie woke up feeling excited. He used some of his birthday money to buy fireworks and then planned on walking through the woods at the back of his house which connected the Crossno neighborhood to another where his friend lived. Robbie had been gifted a tent for his birthday and his mother, Colleen, had set it up in the back garden so that Robbie and his friend could have a sleepover. “It was really, truly one of the happiest days of his life. He just really loved his birthdays,” recollected Colleen.1

The Tragic Death of Robbie Middleton
Robbie Middleton. Credit: Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle

On this fateful afternoon, which should have been a day of celebration, Robbie was brutally attacked in the woods as he made his way to his friend’s home. He was tied to a tree before being doused in gasoline and set alight. When the rope burned and Robbie was free from the tree, he managed to stagger home in a ball of flames and collapse in the street. Colleen discovered her son, blistered beyond recognition and barely clinging to life.

Robbie was rushed to the hospital. He suffered third-degree burns to 99% of his small body. Only the soles of his feet remained untouched. His parents were told that he wouldn’t survive but miraculously, he did.

Following the attack, Robbie named 13-year-old Donald Collins as his attacker. Donald was a local sexual predator who lived nearby the Middleton family. Colleen had often warned her son not to go anywhere near Donald and that if he ever saw him while out alone, to just run away. He was arrested and spent several months in juvenile detention but was ultimately released due to lack of evidence and motivation.

Over the forthcoming years, Robbie endured 200+ operations. He looked forward to putting his trauma behind him and moving on and just being happy. “The past is the past. You need to let it go,” Robbie optimistically said. However, his organs were badly damaged by the fire and at the age of 20 in 2011, Robbie passed away from cancer that was caused by the horrific burn injuries. The cause of death was ruled a homicide.

Just 17 days before he passed away, Robbie made a 27-minute video deposition during which he named Donald as his attacker once again. However, this time, Robbie revealed that two weeks before the shocking attack, Donald raped him in the same woods where he would later set him on fire. Finally, a motivation was revealed.

“He took me out into the woods where I was burned. He pulled my clothes down and started raping me,” he recollected. In fact, three years after the attack, Donald had been convicted of sexually assaulting another 8-year-old boy.2

Robbie described how he had been walking through the woods when Donald crept up behind him and splashed gas in his face. He described how he managed to stumble through the woods and onto the public road near his home. “Don grabbed me by my shoulder and threw gas in my face, after that I don’t really remember anything,” recollected Robbie.3

During the video, Robbie also reveals that as he was on fire, he believed that he also heard the voice of an adult who was speaking to Donald.

Following Robbie’s death, Donald was arrested and charged as an adult with capital murder. At the time of the attack, one had to be at least 14-years-old to be certified as an adult. However, years later, that changed. Donald’s defense attorney, Tay Bond, said that moving the case to adult court violated Donald’s rights because the law in 1998 did not allow him to be certified as an adult. Prosecutors, however, said that the murder didn’t take place until 2011 and by this point, minors as young as 10 could stand trial as an adult.

The Tragic Death of Robbie Middleton
Donald Collins. Credit: Associated Press.

“When Robert died, we were thinking maybe nothing will ever happen, maybe someone is just going to get away with what they did to him. It’s been a long road,” said Colleen.4

During the trial, Colleen told the court room that Robbie had spent his final weeks on earth worrying that he would spend the rest of eternity in hell. He was so concerned about the afterlife that he refused to watch little more than cartoons out of fear a plot line would be racy. “I would tell him, ‘You’re the best person I know, you’re not going to go to hell, Robert,’” she testified.

Gordon Pranger, who had met Robbie during his recovery, said that Robbie confided in him that he worried about going to hell because he had been raped. “Even though he didn’t have a choice in it happening, I think that he felt that that was a sin of having sex before marriage, in his eyes.  I think that’s where his idea of going to hell was coming from,” said Gordon.5

Several witnesses testified that Donald had confessed to them that he was responsible for the attack on Robbie. The 8-year-old boy that Donald had sexually assaulted also testified that following the assault, Donald had threatened to burn him if he told anybody what had happened.

In other testimony, Heather Marie White, whose mother was married to Donald’s cousin, said that Donald had confessed to her that “him and Rex hurt Robbie.” Rex was Donald’s uncle and questions had been raised for years about his possible involvement. He denied the accusations and prosecutors said that they didn’t believe that he was involved. 6

Robbie’s family have always believed that an adult was also involved in the attack. “I absolutely believe there was an adult on the trail. But Mr. Collins won’t ever tell who it was. And that’s why I don’t feel sorry for him,” said Colleen.7

In 2015, a jury convicted Donald of murder and sentenced him to the maximum 40 years. The predator was behind bars where he belonged, all thanks to Robbie, who refused to be silenced – even in death.

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Footnotes:

  1. Houston Chronicle, 10 February, 2015 – “17 Years Later, Man Guilty in Boy’s Death”
  2. Houston Chronicle, 6 February, 2015 – “Trial Shows Dramatic Video of Burned Boy”
  3. The Daily Mirror, 28 September, 2015 – “Boy Tied to Tree and Set Alight”
  4. Houston Chronicle, 7 March, 2014 – “For Victim’s Family, Day is Bittersweet”
  5. CBS-11 KHOU, 4 February, 2015 – “Robbie Middleton’s Mother Testifies in Trial of Son’s Accused Attacker”
  6. Houston Chronicle, 4 March, 2014 – “Key Ruling Expected in Torched Boy Case”
  7. CBS-11 KHOU, 11 February, 2015 – “Don Collins Sentenced to 40 Years in Prison for Capital Murder”

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Susanna Vesna
Susanna Vesna
2 years ago

This is so fucked up! Jesus fucking Christ! How can you do this to a child! Stories like this make me wish humans never evolved, and just stayed in the dirt!

Denny
Denny
2 years ago

So glad they caught this evil prick and put him away. Way to go Texas. RIP Robbie.

Jennifer
Jennifer
2 years ago

Oh Robbie… I have no doubt you are resting in the arms of Jesus now. Evil walks this world till Jesus comes for us. My prayers to your parents……. 🙁

Frank King
Frank King
2 years ago

Good old Texan values. Beat kids, rape kids, act surprised when they imitate the torture.

Gary Davis
Gary Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank King

Fuck you that ain’t texas values dumb ass

Squiff Dibbler
Squiff Dibbler
3 months ago
Reply to  Gary Davis

just american values in general

Honeymoon Croon
Honeymoon Croon
2 years ago

It’s so sick that people do this type of stuff in the world. It’s completely disgusting and I honestly think he should have a life sentence instead of just 40 years.

Bob Hayes
Bob Hayes
2 years ago

He should be raped and burned alive.

RD guest
RD guest
2 years ago

“Robbie confided in him that he worried about going to hell because he had been raped. “Even though he didn’t have a choice in it happening, I think that he felt that that was a sin of having sex before marriage, in his eyes. ” Yet another sick part of how religion subverts, destroys lives and kills people, the victim was terrified HE was going to “hell” for “sin”, he was certainly brainwashed into the mindset that sex before marriage was some kind of stupid fatal “sin” yet the very same brainwashers seem to overlook that their book written by… Read more »

Jbee
Jbee
2 years ago
Reply to  RD guest

If you want to climb on some anti-religion soapbox, there are forums where your rantings might actually be relevant. Shame on you for using someone’s violent death as an opportunity to push your grossly generalized opinions on others.

Robert Hall
Robert Hall
1 year ago
Reply to  Jbee

There’s no need to climb on anything, fact is, if the boy was raised under even remotely modern and evolved values – which people have access to in this day and age as parents, but clearly they chose not to teach those values and instead teach old outdated ones they had to endure to make sure they push their religious BULLSHIT on their child- this kid might be still alive and HEALTHY. You don’t see the connection? Let me show it to you: The rape was preemptive to the burning. If the victim would’ve felt safe reporting the rape the… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by Robert Hall
George Arthur
George Arthur
5 months ago
Reply to  Robert Hall

Robert, there’s thousands of people around the world who don’t report that they were raped and there is any number of reasons. Religious beliefs is just one potential reason for a victim not reporting that they were raped. For many they feel too embarassed, or they don’t want to relive it and instead pretend it did not happen. That’s why some people report rapes years after they happen, because it suddenly comes back to them in horrifying memories. I’m personally not very religious. I don’t believe in organised religion, my views on God are a bit more complicated. It certainly… Read more »

OTHELLO BIBBS
OTHELLO BIBBS
2 years ago
Reply to  RD guest

Man shut the fuck up.

Chris
Chris
1 year ago
Reply to  OTHELLO BIBBS

Truth hard to swallow?

George Arthur
George Arthur
5 months ago
Reply to  Chris

Is it the truth? All I see are a bunch of people claiming to know exactly why Robbie did not disclose that he had been raped, even though these preachers never met Robbie, nor any member of his family. In my profession, I have interviewed people who have been raped. With some of these people, they were assaulted months or even years before. Not once have I ever heard a rape victim say that they waited so long, because of their religious beliefs. It’s far more common for people to refuse to acknowledge it, because it is such a violation… Read more »

Pokie
Pokie
1 year ago
Reply to  RD guest

With all due respect you seem more angry with Your idea of what you think of religion than what happened to the boy.

Misha E Lowenstein
Misha E Lowenstein
2 years ago

I want to see that uncle strung up by his testicles

Margaret Williams
Margaret Williams
1 year ago

YES U KNOW HE WAS RAPING THAT BOY

Margaret Williams
Margaret Williams
1 year ago

OMFG!!! THAT KID WAS BEING RAPED AS WELL BUT WHAT A SICKO FAMILY

Eileen
Eileen
1 year ago

He’s the devil ….the fact that the accused is described as a sexual predator at age 13 is disturbing ,.Got to feel for his family ,the poor child was killed by a murdering rapist when he should have been having the best life .

Vilia
Vilia
1 year ago

13 yo Donald was a sexual predator???
What did he do and what punishment did he receive before this vicious attack on a smaller child?

Mary
Mary
1 year ago

I really loved the bravery of Robbie

Clare
Clare
1 year ago

I can’t believe the suffering that some people have to endure 😢 it puts your own life into context and makes you ask yourself “why am I getting stressed over such trivial aspects in my life” I need to get a grip. Poor boy! My heart goes out to him and his family 😢

Anonymous
Anonymous
9 months ago
Reply to  Clare

So true!

Freddie Cuellar
Freddie Cuellar
1 year ago

Dear god. Poor beautiful child. Burnt alive and then he gets cancer because of his injuries. That WASTE OF SPERM should be raped and then burned alive. Plain and simple!!! RIP to that poor innocent child.

Rachel
Rachel
11 months ago

R.I.p. Robbie 🙏 ……..and rot in hell! To the price of shit that did this …he shud be given the same death he gave that young boy …..

Dot107
Dot107
9 months ago

This is sad and disturbing. I feel terrible knowing that Robbie suffered so much. I’m sorry for his family and for Robbie. I hope that he is resting peacefully and enjoying being with God and Jesus. He was just a little boy. I hope that the boy who did this terrible thing to Robbie suffers while in prison. I think that he should have received life or even the death penalty.

Anne Naylor Naylor
Anne Naylor Naylor
9 months ago

The only person going to hell is the one that attacked him Rest easy up in the clouds.

ChckenNoodleSoup
ChckenNoodleSoup
5 months ago

This case just has stuck with me since I heard about it and that PERVERT MURDERER Don needs to die himself tbh. And I don’t think people deserve to die but his ass does. Robbie didn’t deserve this he didn’t even get the chance to process the fact that he had been raped before he was violently attacked and burned. He didn’t get to come to terms with it until 17 days before he passed. That’s why he thought he was going to hell. He’s in heaven and I know that for a fact. So upsetting and disturbing

wicho
wicho
1 month ago

This is so fucked up! Jesus fucking Christ! How can you do this to a child! Stories like this make me wish humans never evolved, and just stayed in the dirt!

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