A Georgia man whose 22-month-old son died after allegedly having been accidentally left too long in a hot car has been charged with murder after police discovered evidence that he may have knowingly left the child strapped in his seat for hours on a day when the temperature topped out at 92 degrees. Justin Ross Harris, the arrest warrant alleges, strapped his son Cooper into his rear-facing car seat after they ate breakfast at a fast food restaurant.
Harris allegedly then drove to work at a Home Depot corporate office about a half-mile away, leaving Cooper in the car until his lunch break, at which point he reportedly visited the car to put something in the front seat. Just after 4 pm, he returned to the car and left work. Moments later, he pulled into a shopping center parking lot and called for help with Cooper, who had been in the car for seven hours by that point. The child was pronounced dead at the scene.
The story was first reported as an accidental death--and a horrifying cautionary tale for harried parents who read accounts that Harris had simply forgotten to drop Cooper off at day care. But further investigation led to the felony murder and child cruelty charges, as CNN.com reports:
"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," [Sgt. Dana] Pierce [of the Cobb County police] said.
"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."
Last week, Harris pleaded not guilty to felony murder and child cruelty charges. He's being held without bond at the Cobb County Jail and is scheduled to appear before a county judge July 3.
Cooper's mother, Leanna Harris, told CNN last week that 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, but the boy's manner of death has not been released.
Forty-three children died from being left too long in hot cars in 2013, Parents magazine reports, and children are at greater risk than adults of overheating in a car because internal cooling systems--chiefly through sweat--are not as quick to react as adults'.
Click here to read 7 tips for ensuring you never forget your child in a hot car, including practicing extra vigilance when you are starting a new routine, and adopting a "Look Before You Lock" habit whenever you leave your car. The Parents report also shares how quickly temperatures can rise inside a closed vehicle even on a day when the weather is relatively mild:
This is how quickly the temperature inside a vehicle rises on a 70°F day, based on research by Jan Null, department of earth and climate sciences, San Francisco State University. Null also found that keeping the windows open slightly had little effect and that car interiors with darker colors heat up faster.
After 10 minutes = 89°F
After 20 minutes = 99°F
After 30 minutes = 104°F
After 60 minutes = 113°F
After 2 hours = 120°F
Image: Car door, via Shutterstock