MORGAN COUNTY, Georgia - A Georgia State Patrol trooper went above and beyond for four children who just lost their parents in a car accident.
Police said the Howards were driving west on Broughton Rd. in Morgan County, Georgia, when their car left the roadway while going too fast around a curve.
The car hit a ditch and went airborne, striking a tree.
The Howards were killed instantly.
Trooper Nathan Bradley had the task of going to the home to inform their relatives of their death.
"The door hesitantly opened and there behind the locked screen door stood four children in full costume -- a 13-year-old Freddy Krueger, 10-year-old daughter of a Dracula, 8-year-old wizard and a 6-year-old that appeared to be a firefighting ninja turtle," Bradley wrote on the GoFundMe page he set up to help the family.
In order to avoid telling the children about their parents' deaths, Bradley gave them a fun night so they would not associate the death of their parents with Halloween.
"I wanted to preserve these kids' Halloween"
Bradley says he couldn't bear the thought of the kids being told they were orphans and then having to spend the rest of Halloween waiting in a county jail for their grandmother to arrive. So he put the distressing announcement on hold.
He took the children to get burgers, fries and milkshakes before giving them a tour of the troopers' post.
Others who heard what happened brought over candy, toys and Disney movies to watch.
The children were put to bed in rooms at the post, still uninformed of the terrible news.
"You turned an F-Minus day into an A-Plus night!" the little girl told him at bedtime, words he found difficult to take in.
Their grandmother arrived just before dawn and agreed with Bradley and others that it would be better to tell the children what had happened the following day.
"We hoped that they would then relate the tragedy to Nov. 1, rather than Halloween," Bradley wrote.
Fundraiser soars above initial goal
On Tuesday, he said he heard from the eldest son that the transportation of the parents' remains and other funeral costs would amount to $7,000.
That's when he decided to set up the fundraising page, with any additional money going toward the children's future education.
Thanks to a huge response, the amount raised has soared far above his initial goal, with other offers of help pouring in.
By early Thursday, the GoFundMe had raised more than $230,000 from thousands of people.
"I'm am astonished by the support of this family," Bradley wrote as the donations flooded in. "You all are responsible for this success. The family wants to thank each and every one of you."
Still in his early 20s, the trooper says he plans to stay in touch with the four children.
"I care a lot about them and I want to watch them succeed," he said, according to CNN affiliate WSB. "I don't want this tragedy to shadow the rest of their lives."
The Georgia Department of Public Safety praised his efforts.
"Compassion is a core value of our Department," it said in a Facebook post. "Trooper Bradley is a true example of that value."
Below is the letter written by Bradley on a GoFundMe page, explaining what transpired that night:
I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read this. I am a State Trooper with the Georgia State Patrol. Our purpose is to work cooperatively with all levels of government to provide a safe environment for residents and visitors to our state. We are primarily focused on the enforcement of traffic laws, as well as the investigation of crashes - which brings me here.
This past Halloween (October 31st 2015), I overheard an operator going over the details of a wreck with a trooper that was a couple counties away. "Single vehicle wreck with possible fatalities" she regrettably informed. I urgently typed the provided address into my GPS - the wreck wasn't but twenty minutes away. I started making my way down the road, letting dispatch know I would be en route.
After a drive that would feel like an eternity, I could see a display of blue, red and amber lights in the distance. I exited my patrol car and felt the stillness in the air - the emergency personnel weren't scurrying and a crowd of witnesses were covering their mouths off to the side. I approached the horrific scene to validate what I had already suspected. We conducted our investigations and were now responsible for contacting the families of the two occupants involved. They had matching addresses, which was less than a mile away.
A county deputy, the deputy coroner and myself made our way to the house that was backed into the woods. You could hear dogs barking behind the wooden door as we knocked with desperation. The door hesitantly opened and there behind the locked screen door stood four children in full costume - a 13-year-old Freddy Krueger, 10-year-old daughter of a Dracula, 8-year-old wizard and a 6-year-old that appeared to be a firefighting ninja turtle. We were lost with words. The deputy then asked the eldest boy if anybody was home, hoping for a 'Yes' but the boy would unknowingly disappoint us. "My parents went to the store to get more face paint. They told us not to open the door for anybody, but they should be back soon."
We would stall for the next hour while we frantically search the national databases for the closest relative. We were able to reach the kids' paternal grandmother. She had wished for my call to be a cruel Halloween Prank. I urged her to please come to the house and claim custody of the children. She informed me that she lived in south Florida, but would be on her way. During my phone conversation, I watched through my windshield as the three youngest children ran around the yard, laughing.
The sun was set and their grandmother wouldn't arrive for seven hours. I'm nearly a quarter century old in age; I've never been responsible for a child's life and suddenly I was the custodian of four. I didn't know what else I could do, so I squeezed the talk button on my radio and asked radio to notify the Department of Family and Child Services.
I immediately fell ill. Not only would these children discover they lost both parents, but would spend their Halloween in a county jail until somebody could tend to them; it just wasn't right. I pulled the deputy coroner to the side and told him that I was split. I wanted to preserve these kids' Halloween and the ones to come. I suggested that I'd care for them until their family was able to. Being a retired commander with the state patrol, I desired his approval, which he eagerly gave.
I ran over to the kids and asked if any of them would like to go eat with me. Again, they mentioned their parents would be arriving soon. It was important to me that I would not lie to them. I acknowledge their statement and threw out that their grandmother would be meeting with us later that evening. They piled into the unit and buckled up. I activated the emergency equipment in a poor attempt to occupy their minds. The eldest son told me that he thought my campaign cover and two trooper ball caps were cool. I thanked him for his compliment and told him he could wear them, if he chooses. When I asked where they liked to eat, I was bombarded with four separate suggestions. They all had two cravings in common; Ice cream and candy.
The three youngest, who were sitting in the back couldn't control their excitement. The little girl mentioned that going out to eat was rare in their family because her mom is such a great cook. Another part of me torn. We stopped by McDonald's to grab the 10-year-old a large fry and the 6-year-old a Happy Meal, as requested. We then drove several miles to the nearest Burger King; the 8-year-old desired a Whopper with onions on it. I ordered us all milkshakes, again hopping to absorb as much time as possible.
As the group enjoyed their meals, I slipped away to answer a call from my Corporal. He had called to check up on me and was made aware of the situation. I have the best supervisors in the state, so I wasn't surprised when he told me that he was bringing his wife and their son to meet us. The manager suggested that we stayed as long as we needed to, but it was time for us to get going. She gave the group some crowns to wear and said her goodbyes. The eldest son hugged her tightly and said, "We give hugs in our family." as the younger siblings followed the lead.
I asked the children if they were wanting to find some candy. They all cheered and load back into the car. The girl asked if I was a fan of Law and Order: SVU. I couldn't help but laugh. I joked that she couldn't possibly enjoy that show at her age. She interjected that she was a fan of many police shows, but "nobody was better than Olivia and Stabler". She stressed that she records every episode but her DVR no longer has space. She had plans to help clear the reruns with her mother.
The eldest son, who sat to my right would carry on in conversations that were beyond his age. We discussed topics such as the observable universe and his father's service with the military. He explained to me that his father served in the United States Army for eight years, completing two tours; one to Afghanistan and the other in Iraq. He told me how intelligent his father is, even sharing some of his idea for inventions to better the lives of fellow soldiers. He further explained that his father was honorably discharged after tearing his ACL.
I was amazed at the maturity level of the "Kids". I asked how'd they get to be so smart. They gave credit to their parents, whom homeschooled each of them. The eldest stated his mother was the teacher, but his father was the principal. We both chuckled.
As we made our way to the post, the boys celebrated me "being the best cop ever". They didn't know I was bearing terrible news, so I struggled to accept the praise. We made it to the post and I gave them a tour. I explained to them how we accept each other as family and that the post was a shared home. I further explained that being that it was our home, they shouldn't be surprised should other people drop in. That was my attempt to disspell any suspicion they may gain after my Corporal arrived.
It was now about 10PM. My Corporal arrived with his family, bringing some candy, popcorn and a variety of Disney films. The three youngest sat on the couch, while the eldest read a magazine. I had to excuse myself after receiving a phone call from a number I did not recognize. It was the Sheriff of the county where the family was from. He had heard about what occurred and asked if there was anything he could do to help. I told him they children wanted candy and I that we were running low. He stated he would do his best and would be in touch.
As we watched Monster House, there was a knock at the door. It was three residents that heard the news and felt the need to help. In their hands were decorated goodie bags made up of candy and small toys! The kids were absolutely delighted and the visitors helped with entertainment. Shortly after they left, the Sheriff arrived carrying four holiday buckets full of candy! The kids were so excited, especially the little girl that loves cop shows. She stood on the couch and explained how she never met a real sheriff before. The sheriff was touched by the children. He held conversations with each before pulling the 13-year-old to the side and presented him with a miniature deputies badge, made of metal. I could tell the boy admired the gift.
The night continued and it would be another five hours before their grandmother arrived. We have several bedrooms on location, each with their own bathroom. We suggested they stay the night until their grandmother arrived; they agreed so we escorted them to their rooms. After their showers, they were tucked into bed. The little girl grabbed my attention when she said "You turned an F-Minus day into an A-Plus night!" I can't begin to explain how hard it was to hear that, considering the night would be memorable but for reasons that were yet to be disclosed to them.
Grandmother arrived just before dawn. We discussed the mechanics of the crash, her role as their guardian and options available when it comes to funeral arrangements. We both agreed that it would be best for the children to finish sleeping and to be told of their parent's fate the next day. We hoped that they would then relate the tragedy to November 1st, rather than Halloween. After the kids woke up, we walked them to the truck so that they could head home. The 13-year-old would remind us of the task ahead by saying "Hopefully mom and dad will be home by now." I wanted to remain in these kids lives, so I took one of my trooper ball caps and on the bill, I wrote a note telling the eldest to never change. I also wrote down my number so that he could contact me if he needed support.
I told you all that to help you understand the series of unfortunate events:
The children lost both parents.
They children will now be moved from Georgia to Florida.
Due to the move, they will be placed into public schools.
And they would have to rid of their pets (they have about six dogs; two of which are pregnant) because their guardians are unable to tend to them.
I was contacted by the 13-year-old this morning; I was glad he felt comfortable reaching out to me. He told me that it is going to cost his grandparents $7,000 dollars to transport his parents to Florida and the remaining funeral costs.
The Georgia State Patrol as four core values: Trust, Fortitude, Professionalism and Compassion. Although, you may not be a Georgia State Trooper, I'm hoping you could help me with the compassion part. All sums donated will be given directly to the family to be used for funeral costs. Any additional donations after our initial $7,000 goal is reached, will be placed into a trust fund that is setup by the family and will be used to provide higher education to the four children involved.
This is important to me because I have bonded so closely with this family. We weighed out other options and I strongly disagree with the parents being left in Georgia, while the family remains in Florida. These children must be able to visit their parents' graves during their adolescent years and well into their adult years.
Considering the circumstances, the need for donations is urgent. Any donation amount will help, but if you are unable to donate I appreciate you taking the time to read and share this message.