Warrants Show Parents of 22-Month-Old Cooper Harris Researched Child Deaths in Hot Cars
Newly released court documents show that the mother of the 22-month-old who died in a hot SUV in Georgia had also searched online information about kids dying in cars, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
According to search warrant affidavits, Leanna Harris was also questioned by authorities and made similar statements about researching car deaths. The timing of those online searches and investigators' findings have not been released. The AJC reports Harris has not been identified as a suspect in the death of her son, Cooper.
Cooper's father, 33-year-old Justin Ross Harris, is in jail without bond and told police he used the Internet to research child deaths in vehicles and what temperature it needs to be for that to occur, police said. The warrant doesn't specify when he did the searches.
"Justin stated that he was fearful that this could happen," one of the four warrants released to The Associated Press stated.
Cooper died on June 18 after his father left the toddler in the vehicle for seven hours while he went to work at an Atlanta-area Home Depot. Harris has pled not guilty to murder and second-degree cruelty to a child, CNN reports.
The new information seemed to fuel investigator's allegations that Harris committed a "more serious crime" than simple negligence. But at the boy's funeral in Tuscaloosa Saturday afternoon, his mother Leanna Harris spoke publicly for the first time and painted a very different picture of her husband as a loving father who made a terrible mistake.
"Am I angry with Ross?" Leanna Harris said at the service. "Absolutely not. It has never crossed my mind. Ross is and was and will be, if we have more children, a wonderful father. Ross is a wonderful daddy and leader for our household. Cooper meant the world to him."
Harris is being held without bond at the Cobb County Jail, but he spoke at his son's service by telephone.
"Thank you for everything you've done for my boy," CNN reports he said to the audience via speakerphone. "Good life. (Inaudible) No words to say. Just horrible. (Inaudible) I'm just sorry I can't be there."
Harris told police he was supposed to drive his son to day care that morning but drove to work without realizing that his son was strapped into a car seat in the back. Harris put his son, Cooper, in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat of his Hyundai Tucson after eating at a Chick-fil-A restaurant the morning of the boy's death, the arrest warrant says. He then drove to work and left the child strapped into the car seat when he went inside, the warrant says.
At lunchtime, Harris returned to the vehicle, opened the driver's side door and placed an object inside before going back inside his workplace, the warrant says. It does not explain how the officer knows that.
Around 4:15 p.m., Harris left work and, soon after, pulled over at a shopping center and asked for help with his child, the warrant says. Harris told police he was on his way to meet friends after work when he realized his son was in the back seat and pulled into a shopping center to get help, according to the warrants.
The child was left in the vehicle for about seven hours, the warrant says. The ambient outdoor air temperature that day was 88 degrees at 5:16 p.m., according to the first warrant in the case, filed the day after the child died.
The Cobb County Medical Examiner's Office said Wednesday that toxicology results are still pending but that it believes the cause of death was hyperthermia and the manner of death was homicide. Hyperthermia is a condition in which the temperature of the body spikes due to the heat.
Police searched the Marietta, Georgia condo where the family lives, looking for a laptop, electronic devices documents, photographs and any "evidence of child neglect, child abuse." They also searched Harris' cellphone and the light blue 2011 Hyundai Tucson that Harris was driving when his son died.
USA Today reports that a total of 11 search warrants will be released this weekend and more information is expected to be released in the next 48 hours.
"They're definitely going to look at how healthy was the child, the family's previous history, whether dad was usually somebody who was very responsible," she said. "And the defense, if this reaches a trial, will be collecting their evidence that he was a good parent, a fit parent."
Cobb County Police Chief John Houser said Wednesday that he understands tragic accidents happen, but evidence indicates a "more serious crime" has been committed. He didn't elaborate on what the evidence was.
"The chain of events that occurred in this case do not point toward simple negligence and evidence will be presented to support this allegation," Houser said in a message released by the department.
But neighbors and acquaintances of Harris and his wife tell a very different story, describing them as loving parents. Harris is a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and moved to Georgia in 2012 to work for Home Depot.
Their landlord, Joe Saini, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Harris and his wife are "very, very nice" people who were in love with their baby.
"Everything was going right for this couple," Saini said. "They wanted to buy a house so they could have some space for their child to run around the backyard."
Cory Burns, a police officer in Tuscaloosa, said Harris worked for the department as a dispatcher. Burns said his wife, Valissa, worked as a dispatcher alongside Harris and remembers that he and his wife were eager to have children but had some trouble conceiving.
Cory Burns remembers Harris as "a pretty happy guy, always down to earth." Harris brought his son back for to the department a visit recently, Burns said.
"Everyone's praying for him and his family," he said. "It's tragic."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.