Warrant details case against father accused of leaving child in hot car

Father who left child in hot SUV checked vehicle at lunch

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 Action News learned late Wednesday afternoon that a toddler left in the back of his father's hot SUV a week ago died from hyperthermia.

The Cobb County Medical Examiner's Office released the results of the autopsy done on 22-month-old Cooper Harris, in which they ruled the manner of death was homicide.

New court documents obtained by Channel 2's Ross Cavitt Wednesday, show Justin Ross Harris' day started at a Chik-fil-A, just a few hundred yards away from his place of work at the Home Deport corporate headquarters the day of his son's death.

Harris' son attended the Little Apron Academy day care at the office complex.

Warrants said Harris was seen at the restaurant placing his son in a rear-facing car seat.

The drive to his work place versus the day care probably only took a minute or two.

Three hours later, the warrant said Harris was seen going back to his car, opening the driver's door and placing something inside before heading back to work.

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Police said they had that evidence within hours.

Security expert Brent Brown believes that it is almost certain police doubted the circumstances from almost the beginning. Police said Harris told them he went to work for seven hours, left and then realized he had forgotten to take the child to day care.

"They're gathering stuff, real time, real fast and they know what they're doing. So there's obviously more to this story and I think they knew that within the hour of the incident occurring on Acres Mill," Brown said.

Police have reportedly questioned Harris' wife, but the toddler's mother remains out of sight as the case swirls around the community.

Harris remains in the Cobb County Jail, held without bond. Cooper Harris is expected to be laid to rest on Saturday. Investigators said Ross Harris will not be allowed to attend.

In a statement from Chief John Houser of the Cobb County Police Department, he said:

"During the course of their investigation, detectives began to obtain physical evidence and testimonial evidence that lead them to believe a more serious crime has been committed.

"I understand that tragic accidents similar to this one do occur and in most cases they parent simply made a mistake that cost them the life of their child. This institution, although similar in nature to others, must be weighed on its own merit and the facts that lead our detectives to charge the father must be presented at the appropriate time during the judicial process. The chain of events that occurred in this case does not point toward simple negligence and evidence will be presented to support this allegation.

"I fully understand the emotional impact this case has on the public, and as concerned citizens and parents everyone wants to know how this could happen. With that being said, the Police Department cannot share specific details of the investigation with the public. As the investigation continues, there will be times during the process that additional information will be released.

"In fairness to everyone involved in this emotional case, I ask that you not make conclusions based on rumor or suspicion and let our judicial system work as it is designed."

Neighbors in disbelief

Channel 2's Tom Regan spent Wednesday talking to neighbors of the Harris family at the Wynnes Ridge community off Terrill Mill Road.
The Harris family lives in a rented condo in the community.
Neighbors told Regan the latest twist in this tragic story has shaken them up.
Cathy Ferguson said it's hard to accept learning her neighbor, Ross Harris, took his toddler son to breakfast, and went back to his SUV before the little boy died in the back seat of a sweltering vehicle several hours later.
"It kind of changes your view on things, if that's the truth," Ferguson said.
Ferguson called Harris a friendly, helpful neighbor. He jumped her car once. She'd often see him leaving with son Cooper.
"Very nice, normal, mannered person. We'd see each passing, say hi," Ferguson said.
She said the new information on the case has caused her to question her initial belief that the boy's death was accidental.
"An innocent child has lost his life because, I don't know. I don't know what his thought process was. What was going on?" Ferguson said.
Thousands of strangers have come to the father's defense, signing an online petition calling on the DA to drop the murder charge.

There's also a YouTube video suggesting a hidden agenda to railroad Harris.
Ferguson told Regan she'd like to give her neighbor the benefit of the doubt.
"You can't imagine a parent would do to his baby?" Regan asked Ferguson.
"No, cause I have two sons," Ferguson said.
Regan knocked on the door of the Harris home, to attempt to get some comment from a family member or relative. No one answered.