On Halloween night, two parents left their four children, ages 13, 10, 8 and 6, at home while they ran out for a quick errand — grabbing more face paint to finish the costumes and candy for trick or treaters. They would never return. They were killed instantly when their SUV careened off the road and hit a tree.
Georgia Patrol State Trooper Nathan Bradley intercepted a call about the crash and was one of the first responders on the scene. It would be up to him to locate and notify the next of kin. He had no idea that next of kin would be four children, anxiously waiting at home for the return of their parents to get their Halloween festivities started.
The events that transpired between his arrival on the crash scene and the notification of the children prompted the trooper to start a GoFundMe for the children, and on that page he tells the story of the night. It’s one of the most heart wrenching things I’ve ever read.
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.”
Bradley stalled for the next hour while they frantically searched the national database for the closest relative — it was their grandmother in Florida. It would be seven hours before she could get there. The 25-year-old trooper instinctively went to notify the Department of Child and Family Services, but instantly “fell ill.” He explains, “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.”
That’s right — Bradley took the kids under his wing for the next seven hours to be sure the kids were able to enjoy one last Halloween — one that wasn’t tainted with the memory of the horrific events that had unfolded.
He took them to eat, honoring all different suggestions for the things they were craving: “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.”
He then took them to get candy while the 10-year-old girl talked about her love of crime shows: how she had recorded so many episodes of Law and Order SVU that she’d made plans to clear the DVR with her mother to make more room. The eldest son carried on “conversations that were beyond his age,” explaining that his father served in the United States Army for eight years, completing two tours; one to Afghanistan and the other in Iraq.
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.
The night goes on with visits from the Corporal and neighbors — people who’d heard the news and were bearing gifts to bring some joy to the children before their grandmother arrived and the news that would change their lives forever would be delivered. At one point the daughter turned to him and said, “You turned an F-Minus day into an A-Plus night!” The trooper writes, “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.”
When the grandmother finally arrived, they both agreed to wait until morning after the kids had slept, in the hopes they would “relate the tragedy to November 1st, rather than Halloween.” He says, “The 13-year-old would remind us of the task ahead by saying ‘Hopefully mom and dad will be home by now.'”
The Trooper started a GoFundMe page to raise the money to transport the parents’ bodies to Florida, where the children will be moved, so they can regularly visit their parents’ graves. Their guardians will start a trust fund for the kids as soon as the funeral arrangements are paid in full. The page has raised nearly $41,000 in one day.
The most horrific thing that could happen to a family did — there is no changing that or making it better. But the efforts of one 25-year-old man made it possible for these parents to be buried near their children, and for the kids to hopefully grasp one day that there was love being sent from strangers all around at the most painful time in their lives.
I read this story last night while traveling back from a day of work in NYC, and bit back tears the entire way. When I arrived at my doorstep and my kids greeted me with so much happiness after just being separated from me for eight hours or so, I finally burst into tears — of gratitude — realizing I can freely give my children what these kids have forever been robbed – the mere presence of their parents.