Georgia father of dead boy researched online details of child deaths in cars

He faces murder charges after son, left for hours in SUV, died

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photoJustin Ross Harris

A Georgia man facing murder charges after his 22-month-old son died from heatstroke after being left in a hot SUV for seven hours had searched online for information about children dying in cars, according to warrants released Saturday by police.

The documents about Justin Ross Harris were released shortly before his son’s funeral in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“During an interview with Justin, he stated that he recently researched, through the Internet, child deaths inside vehicles and what temperature it needs to be for that to occur,” according to a sworn statement in the warrant. “Justin stated that he was fearful that this could happen.”

Investigators seized an iPhone, the family’s Hyundai Tucson, a laptop computer and other electronic devices from Harris’ home, according to the search warrants.

On the morning of June 18, Harris left the family’s condo in Marietta with his son, Cooper, and drove to a Chick-fil-A to have breakfast, according to an arrest warrant released Wednesday.

The father then put his son in a rear-facing car seat in the middle of the backseat and drove to work, the warrant states.

When Harris got to work at a Home Depot corporate office in Atlanta, he left the toddler in the backseat and went inside the building, according to the documents. He returned to the SUV at lunchtime, when he opened the driver’s side door, put something inside and returned to work, an updated warrant also released Wednesday showed.

Harris left his office at the end of the workday, he told police later, and was already driving the car when he realized his son was still inside. He parked at a shopping plaza and pulled the boy out.

By then, the boy was already dead. Harris, distraught, was not cooperative with police, who handcuffed him and put him in the back of a patrol car, according to the documents. Harris was taken to Cobb County police headquarters for questioning, and within about five hours he was arrested and charged with felony murder and child cruelty.

The boy’s mother, Leanna Harris, said she was not angry at the father and commented on the charges against him at the funeral, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported.

“Ross was and is a wonderful father,” she said.

An online petition asking District Attorney Vic Reynolds to drop the murder charge against Harris gained more than 11,000 supporters before it was closed after an autopsy was released Wednesday. The autopsy determined the manner of death was homicide and the cause of death was hyperthermia, or overheating, police said.

Cooper Harris was the 13th child in the U.S. this year and the sixth this month to perish after being left in a car.