He may be losing public support, but mourners attending his son’s funeral Saturday made it clear they stand behind Justin Ross Harris, charged in 22-month-old Cooper’s death.
His wife, Leanna, in her first public comment since her son died June 18 after being locked inside the family’s SUV for more than seven hours, led the defense of her husband, who listened by phone from the Cobb County jail.
“Am I angry with Ross? Absolutely not,” said Leanna Harris, who remained composed throughout the eulogy. “It never crossed my mind. Ross is and was a wonderful father.”
With that, many among the crowd of about 250 mourners erupted in applause for Ross Harris, as he is known to family and friends. His absence loomed large during the services at University Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa, where the family lived until two years ago.
“There are so many kids in this world that aren’t loved,” said family friend Carl Jenkins. “(Cooper) knew he was loved.”
In brief remarks made over the phone, Ross Harris thanked those who continue to believe in him.
“(Cooper) never did anything to anyone,” he said, audibly choked up. “I’m just sorry I can’t be there.”
Hours before the funeral, just-released court documents revealed Ross Harris told Cobb police he had researched children dying in hot vehicles before Cooper’s death. But no information about the timing of Harris’ web search was included in the search warrant of the family’s home in unincorporated Marietta.
The 33-year-old IT specialist told investigators he mistakenly left Cooper in the family’s Hyundai Tucson before reporting to work at Home Depot’s corporate offices on Cumberland Parkway. But police have cast doubt on Ross Harris’ story.
“The chain of events that occurred in this case do not point toward simple negligence and evidence will be presented to support this allegation,” Cobb Police Chief John Houser said in a statement released Wednesday.
That statement, coupled with reports of Ross Harris’ internet search, led supporters to suspend a online petition demanding felony murder charges be dropped.
Leanna Harris compared her husband to the Biblical figure Job, saying while in jail he has meditated on the travails of the wealthy prophet.
She read aloud from Job 1:21: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart,” the verse reads. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Leanna Harris reflected on the the inevitable disappointments her son was spared.
“His first heartbreak … junior high and senior high — they weren’t the happiest times (for me),” she said. “He won’t have to suffer through the death of his (grandparents). He won’t have to suffer through the death of me and Ross.”
The first-time mother, who discussed her struggles in getting pregnant, said even if she could, she would not bring Cooper back.
“He’s in the most peaceful, wonderful place there is,” Leanna Harris said.
Not long before last week’s tragedy, Ross Harris’ father said his son had dreamt Cooper died.
“His daddy told me, just recently, ‘I can see Cooper sitting on the lap of Jesus,’ ” Kermit Harris told mourners.
In the dream, Cooper was telling Jesus about his father playing guitar in church.
“Jesus, Daddy is playing the guitar for you.” Kermit Harris said, quoting his son.
Leanna Harris shared a final memory of her blue-eyed son, who loved the color red and playing with trucks.
“Cooper’s last two nights, he slept in our bed, snuggled between us,” she said. “I remember waking up, and he was right on my pillow, breathing into my face. I’ll cherish that memory forever.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.