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.