by: Kerry Kavanaugh Updated:
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - A close friend of the Cobb County father accused of leaving his child in a hot SUV says the man described by police is nothing like the man he knew and respected for years.
Ben McRea says he's devastated about what has happened to the Harris family and doesn't know what to think about the Ross Harris portrayed by police.
Police in Cobb County say the father intentionally left his son, Cooper, in a hot car in June.
Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh traveled to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where McRea said he prays police have it wrong and this was a horrible accident and he shed new light on the man now charged with felony murder.
"He was very charismatic, energetic, go-getting social person," McRea says of the Justin ‘Ross’ Harris he met at Central Tuscaloosa High school in the mid-1990s.
They met through a church group and remained close for years.
McRea says he was a groomsman when Ross married his wife, Leanna, in 2006.
"We were all there to support them and, I mean, they just seem like the perfect couple to me,” McRea said. "He really loved her and cared about her."
McRea says years later when Ross and Leanna had Cooper, they were an even happier family.
"They were glowing with joy," he told Kavanaugh about the one time he saw the entire family together shortly after Cooper was born. "Yeah, and the grandparents too, they were all very proud."
All reasons why McRea says he never could've imagined what unfolded June 18.
Cobb County police say Ross Harris intentionally left Cooper, then 22-months-old, in his hot SUV for seven hours.
"It was a link to an article that WSB had on Facebook, a 33-year-old father leaves son in hot car," McRea said. "I was just shocked.”
Harris is charged with felony murder.
McRea says as the case unfolded, it even less made sense.
"I started questioning a lot of things,” he said. “It didn’t make sense to me that he could have thought he had dropped him off when he couldn’t. The six different women, the sexting, the doing what he was doing in his office the day Cooper was dying in the car. It made me sick."
Still McRea says there is too much he doesn't know. So, he won’t judge his friend.
"Part of me still hopes to think, and wishes to think, and prays to God that there's a reasonable explanation to this that he didn't intentionally seek to kill Cooper,” McRea says.
McRea says he is speaking out not to condemn his friend, but to remind everyone about Cooper.
He wants tougher laws surrounding children in hot cars and doesn't want another child to suffer.
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