JOE KEMP Yesterday, 07:42 AM
Justin Harris and his son Cooper, who was found dead in the backseat of the fatherâ€™s SUV on June 18.
Thousands are calling for authorities to drop the murder charge against a Georgia dad arrested after his son apparently died from being left for several hours in the backseat of a hot SUV.
More than 10,000 people have signed an online petition urging the Cobb County District Attorneyâ€™s Office to toss the charge against Justin Harris â€” who was cuffed after his 22-month-old son, Cooper, was found dead on June 18.
Harris, 33, claimed he forgot to drop his son off at a day care before going to work at a Home Depot in the Atlanta suburb and left the child strapped in the backseat of his SUV for seven hours as temperatures outside rose to nearly 90 degrees.
Although the father appeared panicked as he and several witnesses tried to revive the boy at the scene, police say they have uncovered more disturbing details that prove Harris was more than just a negligent parent. A source told WSB-TV that there is evidence the distraught dad actually knew the child was in the car before he pulled his lifeless body from the SUV.
â€śMuch has changed about the circumstances leading up to the death of this 22-month-old since it was first reported,â€ť Cobb County Police Sgt. Dana Pierce told CNN.
Cobb County police
Justin Harris, 33, was charged with felony murder and cruelty to children in after he allegedly left his 22-month-old child in a hot car for several hours.
â€śIâ€™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.â€ť
Pierce said he could not elaborate on the details, because it was considered an ongoing investigation. But he said Harrisâ€™ story had a lot of holes.
â€śWithin 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,â€ť he told the news station.
â€śSome of those answers were not making sense to the first responders.â€ť
Pierce said investigators were no longer sure if little Cooper had been in the SUV for as long as the father initially reported.
â€śI cannot confirm that the child, as originally reported, was in the car at 9 a.m.,â€ť he said.
Harris, who has pleaded not guilty to murder and cruelty to children charges, was ordered held without bail until his next court appearance on July 15.
An autopsy has been completed by the countyâ€™s medical examiner, but the report has not yet been released.
Harris said he forgot to drop off his son at day care before leaving him strapped in the backseat of his SUV for several hours in the Home Depot parking lot.
Despite the confidence of investigators, one man who witnessed the frantic moments when Harris found his son in the backseat of his SUV said the fatherâ€™s pain did not seem staged.
â€śI think it is impossible for this to have been intentional,â€ť the witness, Leonard Madden, told WXIA-TV.
â€śThereâ€™s no way it would have been intentional â€” especially from the fatherâ€™s reaction. You could feel his sorrow and his hurt because of the situation. I think it was insanity for him to be charged with murder.â€ť
Another online fundraiser was created to collect money for Cooperâ€™s funeral. As of Tuesday morning, the site had raised more than $20,000.
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Posted By: Michele Wright, CBS 12 News Anchor
PHOTO CREDIT: Cobb County Sheriff's Office
(CNN) Controversy erupts in the death investigation of 22-month-old Cooper Harris, who was found dead in his car seat last week.
Cooper's father, 33-year-old Justin Ross Harris said he forgot to drop his toddler off at day care, accidentally leaving the boy in the hot car for over seven hours.
Investigators consulted with Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds before securing an arrest warrant for Harris.
ďż˝??Itďż˝??s just a terrible, God-awful situation,ďż˝?ďż˝ Reynolds said. ďż˝??I canďż˝??t imagine, I canďż˝??t fathom what any parent would be going through at this stage. Itďż˝??s the type of case that affects the community.ďż˝?ďż˝
In addition to murder, Harris is charged with cruelty to children in the first degree, according to his arrest warrant.
ďż˝??Said accused did leave a 22-month-old juvenile male unattended and strapped into a child car seat in a parked vehicle for approximately seven hours during daytime hours after which the child was found deceased,ďż˝?ďż˝ the warrant states.
Harris is charged with felony murder and cruelty to children and is being held without bond in Cobb County Jail.
EARLIER CNN REPORT
It was a tragedy from the outset: a toddler found dead apparently after being left alone for hours in a hot car, a distraught father blaming himself and facing serious criminal charges.
Now, Cobb County, Georgia, police imply there is more -- much more -- to the story.
"Much has changed about the circumstances leading up to the death of this 22-month-old since it was first reported," Cobb County Police Sgt. Dana Pierce told CNN. He would not elaborate, citing an ongoing investigation, but his words made it clear this was not just another case of a young life left and lost to heat exposure in a hot car.
Shocking details in hot car death case
"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," said Pierce.
Initially, Justin Ross Harris, 33, told Cobb County police that he accidentally left his toddler son in his SUV on Wednesday. According to police, Harris told them he had forgotten to drop the child off at a daycare center, before going to work.
Harris initially told police he realized that he'd left the boy strapped in his car seat as he drove home Wednesday afternoon.
Investigators say patrol officers were in the area of the Akers Mill Square shopping center in the suburban Atlanta county when dispatchers received the calls from witnesses around 4:20 p.m.
"He kept saying, 'What have I done? What have I done?'" Dale Hamilton told CNN affiliate WSB-TV.
"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 of Cobb County Police said.
On Thursday, Harris pleaded not guilty to felony murder and cruelty to children charges. He's being held without bond at the Cobb County Jail.
CNN spoke with the child's mother, Leanna Harris, on Friday. Harris says 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, although there are some questions.
Cobb County detectives and the medical examiner are working together to confirm the manner and cause of death, Pierce said.
According to the arrest warrant, the temperature reached 88 degrees in the area on Wednesday. Police said medical personnel believed the child had been in the SUV since 9 a.m., as Harris said.
But Pierce told CNN on Friday, "I cannot confirm that the child, as originally reported, was in the car at 9 a.m."
Calls to Justin Harris' attorney were not immediately returned.