COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Robert Thomas Pillsen-Rahier was born on Oct. 27, 1974, and named after his biological father, Robert Thomas Pillsen Sr. The latter passed away in California in 1979 at age 33. Robert’s mother married Gerald Rahier when Robert was four years old. The Rahiers had a son together, Gerald Rahier II, in early 1982.
Rahier had served in Vietnam as an air-traffic controller for the U.S. Army and was injured after the Viet Cong bombed his building, leaving him a paraplegic and wheelchair user. He later received a purple heart for his wounds.
On July 11, 1982, Robert, then 7, found his stepfather’s body shortly after Rahier shot himself in the head in their California home. Because Robert’s birth father died when he was so young, Rahier had become the father he never had. The loss of Robert’s stepfather devasted the young boy.
Robert began having behavioral and emotional issues. Thinking a change of scenery might do him good, his mother relocated the family to Colorado in 1986 when Robert was 12.
But Robert’s problems worsened, and in 1989, his mother found him in his bedroom with a razor blade in one hand. He blamed himself for Rahier’s death because he had been disobedient that day. But his mother said that Rahier had PTSD and other health problems.
Robert also got into an altercation at school. A fellow student had been bullying him, and this particular time, Robert got fed up and hit the kid, breaking the kid’s glasses.
The incident and other issues led to his admission to Cheyenne Mesa Adolescent Treatment Facility, 1301 S. 8th St., Colorado Springs. The establishment was for children with behavioral and psychiatric problems. According to The Colorado Springs Journal, “The complex was comprised of two office buildings and a dormitory on five acres.”
Robert stayed at the facility for a few months before his release. He returned home, but his behavior again worsened, and he once ran away. Even though it was Robert’s first time and he was gone for a short period, the authorities threatened to remove him from his mother’s care if she did not send him back to a residential treatment facility for long-term care.
So, in June 1990, Robert, 15, returned to Cheyenne Mesa, but his mother would never see him again.
Robert and Jean Rahier spoke daily on the telephone. She talked to her son for the last time on July 6, 1990. Robert was crying and said he needed to speak to her about something, but he could not do it over the phone because the facility monitored phone calls.
Jean Rahier immediately called Cheyenne Mesa to set up a visitation with her son. However, an employee told her that Robert was going with other residents and staff on a day trip and she would have to visit upon his return.
A few hours later, one of the workers called her and said Robert had run away. While she likely was not surprised that he might have left the center because of his previous threat, she did not believe that to be the case.
Something was amiss. An employee claimed to see Robert lying in the middle of a field on Cheyenne Mesa’s property around 8:45 a.m. However, they never approached Robert or found it strange that he was on the ground.
Another worker told Jean Rahier they spotted Robert leaving Cheyenne Mesa around the same time but did not try to stop Robert, claiming he was too big. Robert was 5-feet-9-inches tall and weighed 180 pounds, but other employees could have helped.
There’s a problem with the witness accounts, however. Jean Rahier was on the telephone with her son when the employees said they saw Robert. Furthermore, they told her they last saw him wearing a blue plaid shirt and black jeans. But weeks later, when she received a hospital laundry bag of his belongings, both items were inside. Also inside was an Oakland Athletics baseball cap he always wore and the only two pairs of shoes he brought with him to the treatment center.
Obviously, the workers were lying and covering up a crime. But for who? Well, that question would never be answered, unfortunately.
The authorities were of no help. They later claimed there was no evidence of foul play, but likely, the police never investigated Robert as a potential homicide victim. They classified him as a runaway.
A week before Robert disappeared, he went home for a weekend visit. Jean Rahier was doing his laundry and noticed blood in his underwear. She believes that someone at Cheyenne Mesa had sexually abused her son, and that was what he wanted to tell her the last time she spoke to him on the phone.
Her theory makes the most sense. If true, it means someone silenced her son to keep him from talking. That person worked at the facility.
Cheyenne Mesa remained open for seven more years, shutting down permanently in 1997, citing “financial insolvency.” Michael and Karen Turley bought the complex for $800,000.
Police have since reclassified Robert’s case as “endangered missing.”
His mother remarried and is now Jean Rahier-Langness. She and Gerald Jr. relocated to Kansas. The family later set up a Facebook page to help find Robert, but it has been inactive since 2018.
Sources: “Teen Vanished From Suspicious Psychiatric Facility,” by Cat Leigh; The Charley Project.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
Some reports say that Robert was born in Arizona, and the Rahiers resided there for several years. However, as did Robert’s biological father, Rahier, died in California. In fact, the same mortuary handled the burials. So, I’m unsure of how long Robert and his mother had been in Arizona, if at all.
I believe an employee of Cheyenne Mesa sexually abused Robert, per Jean Rahier’s theory. Blood in the underwear doesn’t necessarily prove sexual abuse, but it does seem likely. I don’t think another kid abused him because it’s clear that the employees lied about Robert, so the workers knew what happened to him but helped cover it up to save their asses, or maybe out of fear.
I wish there were a way to track down the employees who worked at Cheyenne Mesa when Robert was there. I did find one woman who retired from there and now lives in Florida. I wonder if she knows anything about Robert.
As a mother of a child with severe behavioral and emotional problems, I know exactly what Robert’s mother went through with him; our stories are nearly identical except for the outcome. It is so stressful. You feel like you failed as a mother.
My son is grown now and utterly different from that troubled boy.
In our case, no one forced my son into a residential treatment center. After a suicide attempt, a crisis worker recommended a place for him, and I agreed. It was the best decision we made for him. But it was a LONG road to get to that point. So, I can’t imagine being in Jean’s position and having no say in the matter.
With our son, the authorities never forced us to put him in a treatment center. They wanted nothing to do with him and said it was our job as his parents to get a grip on our son. It was infuriating that nobody wanted to help us until the crisis worker came along. But we had previously had another crisis worker threaten to charge us with neglect instead of helping us. It’s a long story. But the police were never on our side.
So, in Robert’s case, I feel Colorado authorities might have been the opposite, but not with good intentions.
Workers have abused many kids at residential treatment centers over the years. It’s ridiculous.
A 2007 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) “found thousands of allegations of abuse, some of which involved death, at residential treatment programs across the country and in American-owned and American-operated facilities abroad between the years 1990 and 2007.”
In one particular incident in 2000, a 15-year-old boy with behavioral issues refused to return to his campsite. Staff restrained and held him face-down in the dirt for 45 minutes. Their actions severed an artery in his neck, and the teenager died. His death was ruled a homicide.
The study also found that “during 2005 alone, 33 states reported 1,619 staff members involved in incidents of abuse in residential programs.”
Something similar to the 2000 incident could have happened to Robert. But I wonder if he had threatened his abuser that he would go to the police or his mother over the abuse, so his abuser killed him. I do not doubt that Robert was killed at Cheyenne Mesa.
It seems to me that the authorities’ threat to remove him from his mother’s care was over-the-top. While he hit another kid, he only did so after becoming fed up with the bullying. Furthermore, he was not a threat to others, and I’m not sure he would have harmed himself. While scary, the incident in the bedroom with the razor blade doesn’t mean he planned to harm himself because he could have just done it before his mother walked into his room. Hell, for all we know, he could have been a cutter. Self-harm and trauma often go hand-in-hand.
I believe Robert never left Cheyenne Mesa and that whoever abused him likely killed him to keep him quiet.