Bucs brighten children's day after heartbreak

- A group of siblings who lost their parents got the surprise of a lifetime on Friday, getting exclusive access to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice and free tickets to Sunday's game.

"It's very exciting. It's breathtaking. I didn't know what to say at first, so I'm kind of still speechless," said 13-year-old Justin Howard.

All four Howard siblings have been living in Sarasota with their grandmother since their parents tragically died in a car crash Halloween night near their home Newborn, Georgia.

Donald and Crystal Howard stepped out of their home that evening to buy face paint for the childrens' costumes, and they never returned.

Their story made headlines, not only because of their loss, but also because of the state trooper who responded to the scene that night.

He went to their home to explain what happened, and soon realized the kids -- ages 6, 8, 10, and 13 -- were there by themselves. Rather than breaking the news, and their hearts on Halloween night, he stayed with them and entertained them until their grandmother could make the drive up from Sarasota.

When the Buccaneers found out Justin was a big fan of the team, they extended an invitation to Friday's practice and a luxury suite at Sunday's game versus the Atlanta Falcons.

"I can vividly remember Halloweens, dressing our kids up and them expecting us to be there and the next day too, so it's a tough situation, but in tough situations, you find out there are a lot of great people," said Lovie Smith, head coach of the Buccaneers.

Thanks to a GoFundMe account started by the trooper, and an outpouring of support from loved ones and complete strangers alike, nearly half a million dollars in donations has been raised for the family.

"I want to thank them for any and everything they have ever done for us, the help they've given us, and the care," said Stephanie Oliver, the children's grandmother.

Oliver set up a trust fund of $100,000 in each child's name. She's hoping to buy a new home soon to accommodate the larger family in Sarasota.

Up Next:

Up Next

  • Bucs brighten children's day after heartbreak
  • Tampa warehouse fire under control after 4 hours
  • Smart meters could slow power restoration in Lakeland
  • 4-year-old dies after finding gun in grandmother's purse
  • Jewelry store offers $300 reward for TECO lineman's lost wedding band
  • Skimming devices found at Ybor City SunTrust Bank ATMs
  • Florida ranch takes 'farm-to-table' one step further
  • FEMA opens one-stop-shop for help after the storm
  • Donations pour in as Bay Area Puerto Ricans worry about family back home
  • Center opens in Tampa for veterans in need of prosthetics