Murder or accident? Source claims father knew toddler was in hot car

ATLANTA – What sounded like the most tragic of accidents, a dad absentmindedly leaving his toddler in the car on a scorching Georgia day, is now being treated by police as a horrific, and intentional, crime.

New details from a Cobb County criminal warrant allege that Justin Ross Harris, 33, placed his son, 22-month old Cooper, into a Hyundai Tucson after eating at a fast-food restaurant.

He then drove to his workplace a half-mile away, according to the warrant.

Harris returned to the car during his lunch break, opening the driver’s side door “to place an object into the vehicle,” the warrant states.

The boy was in a rear-facing car seat in the center of the Tucson’s back seat, the warrant says.

Later that afternoon on June 18, around 4:16, Harris left his workplace near Vinings outside Atlanta. Minutes later, he pulled into a shopping center asking for assistance with the toddler, who had been in the car for about seven hours at that point, the warrant says.

Justin Ross Harris, 34, has been charged with murder in the death of his 2-year-old child after he allegedly left the toddler in a hot car for eight hours. - WGCL via CNN

Justin Ross Harris, 34, has been charged with murder in the death of his 2-year-old child after he allegedly left the toddler in a hot car for eight hours. – WGCL via CNN

The average temperature was about 80 degrees that day, but the mercury topped 92 at the hottest point in the day. Police say the temperature was 88 degrees when the child was pronounced dead at the scene.

At first, it seemed like a mistake.

Witness Dale Hamilton told CNN affiliate WSB-TV that an emotional Harris pulled into the shopping center after purportedly realizing he had forgotten to drop Cooper off at day care at 8:30 a.m.

“Laid his son on the ground, started doing CPR trying to resuscitate him. Apparently the child wasn’t responding,” Hamilton told the station.

Police saw a crowd, and when officers began to investigate, they saw the child on the ground. Once it became clear that Cooper was dead, Harris had to be physically restrained, police said.

“There were a number of witnesses — passers-by in the area who observed basically the father in a very distressed moment,” said Sgt. Dana Pierce of the Cobb County police.

Added Hamilton, “He kept saying, ‘What have I done? What have I done?’ And that’s all that I could ascertain that he was saying.”

Police seemed sympathetic at first, and Pierce told media that Harris apparently forgot the child was in the back of the vehicle while he was at work.

When Harris was charged with felony murder and child cruelty, there was vigorous debate over whether the heartbroken father should be punished. Surely, he had suffered enough, many thought.

Erin Krans of Marietta started a change.org petition asking Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds to drop the charges. It garnered hundreds of signatures.

“This could happen to anyone. Anyone. Charging a grieving father is abusive,” wrote Susannah Waldron of Universal City, Texas.

Another signatory, Molly Greenwood of Centerville, Ohio, wrote, “I think the accident alone is enough punishment for the man. I cannot imagine.”

But the story of the hapless father making an innocent mistake quickly changed.

“Within moments of the first responders getting to the scene and doing their job and questions began to be asked about the moments that led up to their arrival at the scene, some of those answers were not making sense to the first responders,” Pierce said.

“I’ve been in law enforcement for 34 years. What I know about this case shocks my conscience as a police officer, a father and a grandfather.”

Last week, Harris pleaded not guilty to felony murder and child crueltycharges. He’s being held without bond at the Cobb County Jail and is scheduled to appear before a county judge July 3.

Cooper’s mother, Leanna Harris, told CNN last week that she’s been advised not to discuss the case with the media.

“We have been in communication with the mother throughout the investigation. At this time, I’m not at liberty to discuss her involvement. That’s a part of the case our detectives are working on,” Pierce said.

Cobb County Medical Operations Manager Mike Gerhard confirmed that the autopsy of the child is complete, but the boy’s manner of death has not been released.

Repeated calls to the father’s attorney have not been returned, and a woman answering the phone at H. Maddox Kilgore’s office said the lawyer would not be commenting at this time.

The father’s employer, Home Depot, said through spokeswoman Catherine Woodling that, per company policy, Harris is on a leave of absence without pay.

“It is not appropriate to comment on any new developments in this active investigation. Like the rest of our community, we’re deeply saddened by this tragic event and we continue to cooperate with authorities on their ongoing investigation,” she said in an e-mail.

Cooper Harris’ funeral will be Saturday at the University Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The service is open to the public.

43 comments

  • Stewie

    How in the hell do you forget about your child for 8 hours in a car this man needs to be charged with murder! ! !

    • V

      My sentiment exactly, how the hell do you forget about a child for 8 hours. It is murder, by stupidity. Some people should not have and or be responsible for children.

    • b

      This guy was not routinely bringing his child to daycare, that is what his wife usually did. If you are not routinely doing something it is extremely easy to forget that task, especially when that child was quietly sleeping in the back the whole time. And as if loosing his son wasn’t enough, people have to go around saying stupid stuff like he MEANT to leave his kid in the back of the car all day. If you don’t know him personally and if you weren’t a witness then just shut up because you don’t know enough about this poor guy to have an opinion. He is going to have to live knowing what he did, he is going to want to turn back time so he can hold his child again, and if he goes to jail his wife will have no husband and his other son will have no father. And I’m sure his kid in heaven would not want to see his dad go to jail.

      • L.D.

        I have not seen ANY news reports that SHE was the one who drove him routinely? THAT makes very little sense since the child’s daycare was part of HIS job at Home Depot Corp offices, not hers. Why would SHE drive if he went there for his job? Very doubtful. My Bro in Law ALWAYS drove their kids to daycare as it was part of his company and 5 blocks from his office, same as this guy’s. AND picked them up after work….of course.
        HOW does one “Forget” a child in 3-5 minutes after just having breakfast with him and JUST buckling him in 3-5 minutes before locking car and walking away? Kid was almost two…believe me, they don’t fall back asleep after bfast and on their way to play time…not unless they are drugged or sick. And to add, they don’t have other kids…. they had been trying for a baby for a long time. He was it. Makes all the more tragic.

  • D

    It’s hart braking to hear about a child’s death due to a parents neglect. The District Attorney is doing his/her job, the man left his child for eight hours in the car that caused the child’s death.If your leaving your children in the car on a hot day, because your being stupid…stupid people shouldn’t re-produce.

  • Trish Ramirez

    Yep. This guy let his son cook to death. I bet he wouldn’t have done the same with his cell phone. Even if it was accidental, that doesn’t change the outcome or the fact that no parent should be so negligent as to forget their own child when they are inches away.

    • Jamie Giles a.k.a. scared mama.

      I am a mom of four and I just had a scary wake up call myself I didn’t want to pull my baby girl out of the car again and just to get gas so I purposely chose Smith’s so that I could walk up to the cashier’s booth and pay for gas quickly and hurry and get back to my daughter I tried to do things as responsibly as possible knowing it was a hot day I left my truck running with both front Windows down about two and a half inches so that fresh air could circulate the vehicle working with the ac on full blast she had a fresh dippy cup of milk and so I locked the vehicle so no one could jump in and take it… or fit their arms threw the window to unlock it I grabbed the keys but sat them back down on the seat walked to the booth to pay for my gas watching my vehicle the whole time she was parked closest to the booth as I paid for my gas still watching my vehicle I realised right then what I did I left my keys and my poor daughter who will be two the end of this month was locked in the car, without delay I told the cashier what I did in case he had to call for help and I told him he might see a fat lady break a window because I was going to get into that truck I jumped right into action I jumped into the back of my truck started pounding on the back window light enough to hopefully loosen it but not enough to break fearing my daughter could be covered in glass I then started looking for anything to possibly help my efforts of getting the back window open, luckily our fish tackle box was in the back of my truck I quickly opened it discovered scissors and started prying at my window I got it cracked about an eighth of an inch pushed on the center latch with the scissors and unlocked the window opened it crawled inside instantly hugged and kissed my daughter and said mama was sorry and would never do that again I stayed parked there for a while because the stress of knowing she was locked inside even if it was less than one minute literally gave me chest pains so bad I knew I needed to calm down before driving, I saw a guy parked behind me getting gas and I told him what I had done and how I got inside of my truck and told him it shook me up so bad that I had to wait a minute before driving so that he would know he would have to back up after getting had because I had no intentions of leaving right away until a knew I was safe to drive… that was a mistake I will never make again as I said I tried to do it ad responsibly as possible but the fact of the matter is any time with your kid in a vehicle without you is irresponsible and no one should do it, I thought I wad going to have a heart attack and my daughter was locked in a cool truck with her cold milk available to her and I never looked away from her she was always in my sight so I can’t imagine how anyone could knowingly leave a child in a hot vehicle that many hours and feel okay with it knowing the risks of danger, leading to a death that is unfortunate and could have easilly been avoided. I am sad in my heart and sick of seeing so many stories of babies and children losing their lives because someone was heartless and carelessly putting other things before their child’s safety… my lesson was learned, and our outcome was a good one, I know God helped me work quickly without panicking and thank the good Lord my daughter is okay that was my nightmare for under a minute, and that was long enough.

      • Jamie Giles a.k.a. scared mama.

        This happened in price on the 24th about fifteen minutes after noon I wish you could see the servalence camera’s video you would see how my irresponsible act scared me so badly and yet there was no time for panicking I leaped into action and God watched over us in our time of need, if you are a parent or caring for a child think…. do not do what I did I got lucky with our outcome you might not… ans someone else might have to pay for your negligence with their life.

    • Jamie Giles a.k.a. scared mama.

      I promised my daughter that I will never do that again and thank God that we got lucky I promised to make it up to her by planning a trip to Disneyland that way when she is old enough to remember we might have enough pennies saved up to go the penny saving starts today. 😃

  • Natalie Berry

    I am a mother of two and I have never forgot my kids, sorry I just don’t buy that at all. The man is just a cruel idiot. A parent knows where their kids are at all times unless they are being left in the care of a responsible person. He should be charged.

    • Buzz

      So you want his wife to live with out a husband and his other son to live without a father?!! Sorry but your kind of cruel :/ This dad didn’t usually take his kid to daycare and all he was thinking about was work. Have you never had those days where you are so focused on something that you are pretty much oblivious to everything else? If you say ‘no’ then I know you’re lying because everyone has. I feel for this guy because everyone that said they knew him said he was a great dad. It’s extremely unfortunate what happened to his son but his son is probably looking down from heaven and hoping that his daddy doesn’t go to jail.

      • Trish Ramirez

        Did you read the article? He went out to his car during lunch. Other news outlets are reporting that his computers were seized and that he’d been googling how long it takes for animals to die in a hot car in the days before he did it. Look into his face. Does that look like the face of a grieving dad? No. That’s the face of someone who’s scared because he got CAUGHT.

      • Jamie Giles a.k.a. scared mama.

        I think it is a sad story and very unfortunate… maybe more people will be aware of the dangers, and by the time he took his lunch the kid was probably dead already so by not breathing or making noise I am sure he was not aware of his son’s presence or he would have acted sooner…. I can’t fathom the possibility of him knowing and going into work anyways. Very very sad…. now let’s learn from this tragedy. My thoughts and prayers are with the whole family, especially the father that has to live with this. Be more careful in your decisions from here on out…. I know I will.

      • layla_22

        Have you ever had a relative or friend die at home, only to be found hours later (my father did)…..the smell of death is hard not to notice. After going to the vehicle at lunch time, and after leaving work then driving approximately 2 miles before remembering his son, the smell of death should have been enough to knock him out of the car. It is suspicious enough that he supposedly researched how long it takes a dog to die in a hot car. All so very odd.

      • luke

        Hmmmm….I bet he wouldn’t have FORGOT his cell phone! Or his laptop! There is no excuse for this. Absolutely NONE! Have you ever tried sitting in a hot car for more than a minute? With the windows rolled up? No AC? It’s torture. That little baby suffered an absolutely horrible death due to his father’s negligence. At the very least, he should face a charge of manslaughter. He strapped his baby in a seat and left him to slowly cook to death! “I FORGOT” just isn’t good enough! A baby is DEAD! He is the reason. Period.

  • M west

    Let’s look at the child. He must have been crying and screaming. Charge him. No parent would forget their child unless they did it on purpose. He knew his child was in the car but didn’t care to have any kind of caring in the world. This baby was a gift. He was responsible for his care and up bringing.

  • Lisa

    Never understood people who claim to have forgot their child in a car! I am a mother of four. I have forgot a lot of things. Forgot to stop & buy milk when I knew I needed to. Forgot to pick up dry cleaning. Forgot to call about a past due bill. These are things that can be forgot, NOT a child. A child has died while in the care of the one person who is supposed to provide for & protect him. He should be charged.

  • easycfm

    I was left home in my crib (as a child) (mother thought father had me, father thought mother had me…) not condoning or saying what this guy did was accidental or not, but i know that sometimes people have things on their mind and they forget things… a child is a highly un-probable, but i was left home alone for hours before they figured it out. It was an honest mistake my parents did, so who knows.. I wasn’t there. Just sad that the baby died for his negligence.

  • Kendra

    Um, judge much? You have no idea what the circumstances are in this case. Perhaps the dad doesn’t normally have the child in the morning. We all have our routines, and we get used to doing things a certain way. May be the child was asleep in the back of the car, the dad got to work, had a lot on his mind, or was running late, forgot he had the child, and went on his way. Usually in cases where it truly was an accident, there is some circumstance like that where it’s a change in routine, or, like the comment above, both parents think the other parent has the child. That being said, if authorities have charged him, they have probable cause. They are not going to waste time and resources to bring charges that have no merit, or chance of sticking. I’d just like to know how they know he returned to his car hours before he reported the death. There’s a lot more to the story than is being reported. What possible motive does this man have? I’d like to know more.

    • Stan

      What possible motive does he have? Ever heard of abortion? He didn’t want a kid. People do it all the time.

    • Jamie Giles a.k.a. scared mama.

      That is very true I would like to know more about this case as well. It does seem a little unusual that in the picture he does not looked completely destraught I know I couldn’t live with that, innocent or not I do feel for him and his whole family.

    • layla_22

      Understood. But, he put an object in the car around lunch? Still forgot? Given the temp of the car for 7 hours, I am sure he smelled death (perhaps his deterioration was sped up by the heat) when he entered that vehicle to leave work. Why was he researching how long it take a dog to die in a hot car….coincidence?

      • Kendra

        First of all, we don’t know when the baby died. A body does not start smelling of death the second the heart stops. I’m not saying this man isn’t guilty. The more details surface, the more it looks like it was intentional. My comment about judging was aimed toward all the comments which said it’s impossible to forget your child. It’s not impossible, and it doesn’t make you guilty of anything if you make this mistake. It’s a tragedy, and no amount of civil or criminal justice can compare with the agony, guilt, and sadness a parent feels when their momentary absence of mind causes the death or injury of their child. The point I was trying to get across was don’t be so quick to judge and/or hang a parent for circumstances you don’t have the full story on.

  • Stan

    Deliberate murder. Obviously. Its not possible to “not notice” that your kid is in the car. He even returned to the car and opened the back door and put something on the seat.

  • Mary-Evelyn Starnes

    Your headline says “source claims father knew toddler was in hot car.” But I read this article twice and don’t see where you back up that claim. What source?

  • L.D.

    For the above comment “his other son….”? HUH? They had no other kids…they had been trying to have a child for a long time (so said a family friend) And yes…the smell even when he opened the door mid-afternoon, HAD to have been horrid. All of us who have had toddlers know very well how bad those poops were…stank up the whole room! He was in poopy diaper in an over 100 degree car for over 3-4 hours when the man opened that door to “put something in…”. Then by 4:30 when he gets in again, you all don’t think he’d barely be able to breathe before rolling down the windows? But nooooo…he didn’t notice a thing. AND he “forgot” his babbling toddler he’d JUST had breakfast with less than FIVE minutes before he locked the car and walked away?? WHO believes THAT? Not the detectives. And WHO was to pick up the baby from HIS office’s daycare at 4:30? The detectives know a LOT or he’d would have been home by now…other parents who have killed their children this way were allowed to go home until their court cases. (exceptions were druggies and drunks who “forgot” their babies) I am now wondering if they had a large Life Ins Policy on the baby? Many families do…. but if he does, THAT might explain “motive”.

    • KL

      Thank you for mentioning the pick up from daycare aspect! It has driven me crazy that no one has mentioned that. Somehow from his drive from Chik-fil-a, Ross forgot he even HAD a child at all. He didn’t drop him off… he didn’t even PRETEND to go pick up Cooper from daycare…nothing. Just acted like he didn’t exist. I’m definitely curious about phone/text exchanges between them that day…2 sleepless nights you’d think there would be inquiries about how Cooper did at drop off…or something. Also several of the witnesses at the shopping center talked about his unusual behavior there…like when someone else took over CPR, he got on his phone…away from Cooper and announced “I killed our son!” Then he ran around and punched trees or whatever… Would wild horses be able to drag you away from your baby that you just discovered had died?

    • Anna

      I read they had two life insurance policies one for 2,000 and one for 25,000 on the boy :( I would do anything to give my babies what they need not other way around to make sure I got money its so so sad. Hope he gets raped in prison.

  • Alicia

    How come NOBODY in the world at large noticed the kid locked inside the car? The kid was not a small baby: He was nearly 2 years old & likely already talking.

    • whymsfit

      I was thinking the same thing, Alicia. Did he park as far away from the door he walks into purposely so no one would see that he had a child in the car? Where did he park? And even though he went back to the car at lunchtime, he still didn’t realize the child was in the car? I’m not a parent but I wouldn’t do that to an animal. I sure hope he has some answers because he’s going to be asked a LOT of questions…… and they better be really, really, really good answers to keep him out of jail. I don’t know if men are more on board with this subject than women but this is just too hard to wrap my head around.

  • Alicia

    What a HORRIBLE way for that poor kid to die: I’m sure this kid’s death was neither quick nor painless & I’m still desperately trying to understand why nobody noticed this nearly 2 year old kid BOILING UP INSIDE A HOT CAR ALL DAY=I’m sure the kid didn’t just sit there & DIE like a good little boy who may or may not have been in the slow process of being murdered. I’m sure this poor, TERRIFIED, little boy had to have been screaming his head off, but maybe his dad had (intentionally or not) parked in a secluded spot before going inside to begin his work day?

  • Deborah

    How does one ‘forget’ a child? If the baby was so loved and adored would the parent not think about him during the day? Would that have not triggered his memory? Did the mom and Dad not check in with each other as to how the baby was when he was dropped off? Who was supposed to pick him up from daycare? Why were both parents searching ‘hot car’ deaths. Or even animal deaths in hot cars? Do they have a pet? Both parents lack credibility.

  • whymsfit

    I can’t think of ONE issue that would overwhelm his consciousness to the point where he wouldn’t remember he had HIS child in his car.

  • Julie

    I was giving the guy the benefit of a doubt until I heard about his computer searches. Luckily he didn’t throw his computer off a bridge somewhere or he would have gotten away with this.

    Also, what up with the wife? Didn’t she give the Eulogy herself? You would think she would be much too distraught. She actually spoke of making more babies with that murderering husband! Is this one of the greatest love stories of all times or are they both guilty sociopaths who should be rendered infertile by any means necessary!

    I am lying in bed trying not to think about the agony that poor child suffered. Cooked to death in a car. I pray to God he just fell asleep, but I doubt it…RIP Baby Cooper. This simply should have never happened to you!

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  • Anna

    I read they had two life insurance policies one for 2,000 and one for 25,000 on the boy :( I would do anything to give my babies what they need not other way around to make sure I got money its so so sad. Hope he gets raped in prison.

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