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.”

Now! There are...several things to say about this story:

  1. The cops putting this on Facebook as a public relations victory (“Compassion is a core value of our Department”) is gross.
  2. Instead of associating Halloween with the tragic death of his parents, the eldest—at least initially, and eventually, probably the rest of the kids—will associate it with being deceived for literally hours on end by an authority figure withholding from him the fact that his parents had died.
  3. “It was important to me that I would not lie to them,” Bradley wrote. Except, in choosing not to tell the children that their parents were dead, he did lie—that is not necessarily, in itself, a bad thing.
  4. That is to say: this is a legitimate ethical conundrum and very much up for debate.
  5. BuzzFeed’s headline: “A Cop Who Had To Tell Four Kids Their Parents Died Tried To Give Them An Amazing Halloween.”
  6. Presenting this as a feel-good story is both repulsive and stupid.
  7. This tragedy will shadow these children rest of their lives no matter how long Bradley waited to tell them and no matter how much money anyone donates.

Would you have told the children that their parents were dead? Let us know in the comments!

Photo via WSBTV. Contact the author of this post: brendan.oconnor@gawker.com.