Tragic life of boy who spent 8th birthday tied to a tree and set on fire

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It’s now been 10 years since Robbie Middleton took his final breath after dying of skin cancer caused by third degree burns.

That’s because on his eighth birthday, he was tied to a tree where gasoline was thrown over him before he was brutally set on fire.

This happened two weeks after the same attacker allegedly raped him.

Robbie’s mum found him blistered beyond recognition after the fire – and his life was never the same again.

Here, we take a look back on his harrowing ordeal that led to his heartbreaking death ten years ago.

Robbie was the youngest of three children to parents Colleen and Bobby.

According to Colleen, Robbie “adored” his birthdays and would always wake up early for them.

And on his eighth birthday, on June 28, 1998, he was gifted with a new tent.

His plan was to visit a friend's home before later pitching his tent and enjoying the rest of his big day with his family.

But on his way to his pal’s home, which required a walk through the woods, he was targeted by the 13-year-old teenager who allegedly raped him two weeks earlier.

Minutes later Robbie – who was in unimaginable pain – emerged from the woods in Splendora, Texas, covered in flames as his skin melted away.

His horrified mum found her son unrecognisable before he was rushed to the hospital.

Experts feared he wouldn’t survive after he suffered third-degree burns to 99 per cent of his body – with only the soles of his feet spared.

Medics worked tirelessly to save the boy’s life – including countless skin grafts and more than 150 operations.

Robbie eventually named the attacker as his neighbour, Donald Collins, who was just 13.

But Collins was later released from juvenile custody because there was no evidence attaching him to the stomach-churning crime.

And it would be 17 years before justice was served.

Robbie meanwhile was left severely disfigured but he amazed friends and family with his optimism.

He once said: “The past is, well, the past. You must let it go.”

But his hospital visits became relentless, and he needed new skin grafts as his body grew and would often have to relearn how to walk.

And tragically he was later diagnosed with skin cancer – meaning he was dying aged 20.

From his hospital bed, he bravely recorded a 27-minute video where he accused Collins of raping him weeks before the fire.

It was the first time he opened up about his ordeal.

But just 17 days later, in April 2011, Robbie took his last breath. It was ruled a homicide because the cancer was linked to the attack.

By now Collins was already in prison after failing to report as a sex offender.

He had spent his life in and out of jail and aged 16 was even convicted of sexually assaulting an eight-year-old boy, serving four years.

In September, five months after Robbie’s death, he was finally charged with felony murder after the deathbed video revealed the motive.

Robbie’s family was even handed $150billion in a civil lawsuit against Collins – one of the biggest in US history.

During the trial witnesses came forward saying they too were sexually abused by Collins who threatened to burn them if they told anyone.

In court, Robbie’s emotional deathbed video was played, where he said: “Don grabbed me by the shoulder and threw gas in my face, after that I don’t really remember anything.”

His mum also described how there was a “perfect outline” of Robbie’s body still scorched into the tree after the attack.

Collins was sentenced to the maximum 40 years in 2015 – and he showed no emotion throughout the harrowing trial.

He remains behind bars.

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