It’s been eight days since Ross Harris was arrested and charged with felony murder after leaving his son locked in his SUV under a blazing sun, but several pivotal questions about his alleged culpability remain unanswered.
On Wednesday, Cobb County Police Chief John Houser, responding to pressure from the media, said evidence will be presented supporting their contention this was not a case of “simple negligence.”
But that evidence has yet to surface, at least publicly. A police spokesman said search warrants issued in the investigation likely won’t be available until Monday.
“I wish the police would come out and say what they have,” said Janette Fennell, president and founder of Kids and Cars, which seeks to educate the public about the dangers of leaving child unattended in vehicles and how it can happen to anyone. “To me, the jury is still out.”
Here’s what’s still unknown:
- What led police to arrest Harris, 33, so quickly? He was charged with felony murder and first-degree cruelty to children five hours after 911 operators first received calls about a man seen hovering over a toddler’s body screaming, “What have I done? What have I done? I’ve killed our child.” Police searched Harris’ office before he was charged but have not said what was recovered.
- Why was the first-degree cruelty to children charge reduced to second degree, signifying there was no malicious intent on Harris’ part?
- Why did Harris go to his car in the Home Depot corporate offices on Cumberland Parkway at lunchtime, as spelled out in an arrest warrant for Harris released Wednesday?
- What, if anything, did 22-month-old Cooper Harris’ mother — questioned by police June 18, the day of her son’s death — know about the events of that day? The Harris’ attorney, Maddox Kilgore, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
- Did Harris, an IT specialist, search his work computer to find out for how long it takes an animal to die inside a heated car, as reported by a local TV station crediting a law enforcement source? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has not verified such evidence with police. If such a search was conducted, it’s unclear when.
As the questions linger, support for Ross Harris appears to be dwindling. An online petition demanding Cobb police drop murder charges has been suspended after receiving more than 11,000 signatures.
“I think that based on the recent developments this petition is no longer relevant,” a note posted on the site stated. “I still pray that this was truly an accident. If that is the case, the DA now knows that the community does not want Justin prosecuted on murder charges.”
Donations to a trust fund set up to cover expenses brought on by Cooper’s death have stagnated after more than $22,000 was raised. According to YouCaring.com, the host site for the Harris fundraiser, donations are transfered directly into PayPal or WePay accounts as soon as they are received.
While public sentiment seems to have turned against Harris, Fennell said she still think it’s plausible that Cooper died accidentally.
Evidence that Harris returned to his car at lunchtime proves nothing, she said.
“He was in a rear-facing car seat, so it’s absolutely possible he didn’t see the child,” she said. “You’re not going to look for something that’s not supposed to be there.”
It is all but certain that Cooper was already dead by then. Jim Fortenberry, chief pediatrician for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said it takes a very short time for a small child to be injured by heat.
“Toddlers don’t handle heat as well as adults do,” he said. “It can be a matter of moments before a child’s organs are being affected or injured by the heat. It can cause brain swelling, kidney injury, heart rhythm problems, severe dehydration … it happens very quickly.”
Cooper will be buried Saturday in Tuscaloosa. His father, being held without bail in the Cobb County Adult Detention Center, won’t be allowed to attend.
“He was loved and cherished and protected by both parents and all family members for his short 22 months of life,” wrote family members wrote in a paid obituary published Thursday. “He was a happy baby.”
— Staff writer Alexis Stevens contributed to this article
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