Man brutally burned as child loses battle with cancer

April 30, 2011 8:31:02 PM PDT
It was a horrific case that gained national attention -- a young boy struggled to survive after he was doused with gasoline and set on fire. He lived for 13 years after the attack. Saturday night, his family and friends prepared to say their final goodbyes. Robert Middleton was just 8 years old when he was attacked and burned in 1998. He'd spent the better part of a decade in and out of a hospital and later developed cancer.

His family says he died last night.

Robert's mother says her son was an inspiration to her and others.

Just a few weeks shy of his 21st birthday, Robert Middleton had plans.

His mother says Robert knew his cancer was terminal, but he remained positive and hopeful.

He had an impish smile and sense of humor -- traits his mother says he kept even in the worst times.

"He was a very tough, strong person, all the way to the end," Colleen Middleton said of her son. "Mentally, physically he was very tough, but he was also -- Robert was a good person. He never deserved any of this."

We first met Robert in 1998 when he was doused with gasoline and burned over 99 percent of his body on his 8th birthday. He spent most of his life in Shriner's burn hospital in Galveston. The rehabilitation was painful, but his mother says Robert never gave in to self pity and anger.

"He would say to me, 'Momma, let it go. Past is past.' Because I'm a very angry, bitter person about it," she said. "But he would say, 'Momma, let it go. Past is past.'"

We kept up with Robert over the years, showing his progress and his happiness with life.

"We tried to do everything we possibly could in those 13 years. We went on vacation, we went camping. He went camping, he went outdoors with us and that was fun," Middleton said.

But there was one obstacle Robert's mother says was unbeatable. He was diagnosed last year with skin cancer, yet Robert focused on the future.

"He had plans. He would say, 'Momma, when I turn 21,' -- he would have been 21 in June -- he was like, 'Momma, when I turn 21 I want to buy an RV so we can travel."

The family moved to Galveston this past year to be closer to Robert. His mother and sister were able to look into his hospital room window each night.

"Robert and I -- because of his burns -- we would spend a lot of time in the hospital room together, and months and months on end for years," Middleton said. "Now looking back, I'm glad we got to spend so much time together and it was a good thing."

The person responsible for burning Robert never faced trial. Middleton says she is now focused seeking justice for her son.

Two lawyers have agreed to take on the case. Robert gave a deposition before he died.

His funeral is scheduled for Sunday in Texas City.


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