Should This Cop Have Lied to These Kids Whose Parents Just Died?

Brendan O’Connor

A fatal car crash left four children orphaned in Georgia on Saturday, BuzzFeed News reports. A police officer dispatched to the family’s address found himself unable to impart the news, and instead took the children for fast food and then back to the precinct for candy.

In a statement posted to Facebook by the Georgia Department of Public Safety, Trooper Nathan Bradley said that he and other officers found D.J. and Crystal Howard dead in their car after the wreck this past Halloween. He, a county deputy, and the coroner made their way to the couple’s address, less than a mile away. They knocked on the door, which swung open to reveal four children: 13; 10; 8; and 6 years old. Their parents had gone out to get more face paint, the children said, and would be back shortly.

The children’s next of kin, their grandmother, had been promptly informed of the parents’ death, but she was in Florida, seven hours away. With his superior’s approval, Bradley decided not to tell the children that their parents were dead until she arrived the next day.

“I wanted to preserve these kids’ Halloween and the ones to come,” he wrote. “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.” So, they went for burgers and ice cream, and afterwards to the precinct, where they spent the night.

(“I figured yeah, something bad must have happened, because if nothing bad happened then all these troopers wouldn’t be here,” the eldest, Justin Howard, said later.)

“After their showers, they were tucked into bed,” Bradley wrote. “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.”

Their grandmother arrived early the next morning. “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,” Bradley wrote. “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.”

Bradley also started a GoFundMe, which has raised nearly $120,000 to help pay for the cost of the funeral and moving the children to Florida to live with their grandmother. “He’s helping us so much right now,” the children’s grandmother told WSBTV.

“It’s definitely humbling,” Bradley told BuzzFeed. “It’s amazing how fast social media and all the media outlets have spread that… It’s been fantastic.”

“Our purpose was to preserve future holidays as far as Halloween goes,” he told WSBTV. “I don’t want this tragedy to shadow the rest of their lives.”

So I read this story this morning before I left for work, if you click the link you’ll see that the writer, Brenden O’Connor, goes on to list 7 bullet-points expressing why what this officer did was a bad thing. In fact, he says that the original title of the article was “This Cop Lied to a Bunch of Orphans.” But editorial made him change it. That’s how strongly he feels that this was wrong. And, surprisingly, most of the comments, at least that I saw thus far, were in agreement.

He was looking out for his own feelings, not the children’s.

Gross, cowardly, and wrong. He plain old chickened out. I don’t care how many Happy Meals they got, this Halloween is hideously ruined in their memories and this dude refusing to do the hard part of his job isn’t going to change that. I do think it’s nice that he started the gofundme, but someone else would have if he hadn’t so it’s really just another way of trying to look like the good guy instead of a weird creepy liar.

I hate to pull this card, but as someone who’s dad died when I was thirteen, I would have been furious and horrified to find out that the person I had been with for the past seven hours knew and chose not to tell me.

And so on. Even some who are willing to concede at least that they believe that Bradley’s heart was in the right place, still believe he made the wrong choice.

Well, I disagree. I don’t have a problem with what he did and how he handled it. It was one of those split-second decisions he had to make, and he chose to wait to let them hear it from their grandmother. I think I would have done the same thing. Yes, I’m sure the pain of having to tell the kids that their parents were dead is something that he would prefer to avoid, as would I (but I acknowledge that, in case, that is one of the possible duties of the job), but, really, how would it have benefited this kids to hear this at that time. It was night, they dressed up to go out, the parents are dead, and that’s not changing, so at least they got to have one last good night before they find out that their lives have changed forever.

Maybe if the kids were all older I’d feel differently, but the oldest was only 13. Some say he should have at least been told. Really? Put that responsibility on a 13 year old to either tell or hide it from his pre-teen siblings?!? GTFOH

I say bravo Trooper Bradley. And I hope all his critics, who are so sure that they would have handled it better, are putting their money where their mouths are, and donating to the fund for those poor children.


And R.I.P. to D.J. and Crystal Howard.

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