Like many parents on Halloween, Donald and Crystal Howard wanted their kids to have a good time. That meant getting their costumes just right. But their oldest son, Justin’s costume needed a little something more. So they headed to the store, leaving their oldest, Justin, in charge of their siblings. Unfortunately, the Howards never made it back.
They died instantly in a car crash on their way back to their home. A Georgia State trooper who heard the call on the police radio had the unenviable job of telling the children that their parents had died. But he couldn’t do it. So he waited instead for their grandmother to make the seven-hour drive from Florida, and took them for food and had them spend the night at his station, not at a foster home. Now, he’s helping the family raise money.
“When it comes to the investigation,” he said, “we’re a little desensitized because it’s something we see all the time.”
But this time was different. Bradley made the quick drive to the house, where he was greeted by the four costumed children.
The youngest, 6-year-old Tayvion, was a firefighting Ninja Turtle. Daimean, with his not quite red face, was a wizard. The boys’ 10-year-old sister, Amiah, was the daughter of Dracula. And the oldest, 13-year-old Justin, was Freddy Krueger. From behind a screen door, Justin told Bradley his parents had gone to the store and would return soon.
There was no way Bradley could tell them their parents would not be returning. The children’s closest relative, a grandmother, lived seven hours away in Florida.
Bradley could have collected the kids and turn them over to social workers until their grandmother arrived. But he couldn’t do it. Instead, the 24-year-old trooper decided he’d just take care of them himself.
“Anyone hungry?” Bradley asked the four children.
Again, the Howard children mentioned their parents would be arriving soon.
“It was important to me that I would not lie to them,” Bradley said. “I acknowledged their statement and threw out that their grandmother would be meeting with us later that evening.”
Minutes later, Bradley had four passengers buckled up inside his patrol car. After a quick trip to McDonald’s for fries and a Happy Meal, the group settled on Burger King.
The children and their new trooper friend turned heads, Bradley said. The restaurant manager said they could stay as long as they wanted and gave each child a crown to wear. Justin hugged her tightly and said, “We give hugs in our family.”
Bradley continued to divert the kids’ attention, asking them questions and telling them about his job. The children were chatty, telling Bradley about their parents and their favorite TV shows. It was almost as if nothing had happened.
But Justin, at 13, knew something wasn’t quite right, and he pulled Bradley aside.
“Trooper, are you going to be honest with me?” Justin asked.
Bradley put his arm around the boy and looked him in the eyes.
“Buddy, everything’s going to be alright,” Bradley told the boy. “There will be a time for me to be honest with you, but I don’t want to focus on that right now. Trust me, I will tell you everything.”
Bradley drove the kids to his GSP post where everyone worked to keep them busy.
Three residents who heard the news and felt the need to help arrived with decorated goodie bags of candy and small toys, which excited the kids. The local sheriff arrived later carrying four buckets of candy.
After a night of movies and treats, all four children were asleep in makeshift bedrooms at the GSP post when their grandmother, Stephanie Oliver, arrived in the early-morning hours Sunday. When the four children woke up, they were told the news.
Bradley has since set up a GoFundMe account to help the grandmother who has to pay for a funeral and needs assistance with expenses now that she had four more children in her household. She is already living with her daughter, grandson and a 9-year-old niece.
If you want to donate to the Howard family, click HERE.