The temperature reached a blazing 92 degrees on the afternoon of June 18 when Georgia father Justin Harris discovered his 22-month-old son’s lifeless body in the backseat of his SUV.
Harris insists his son’s death was an accident, but a new warrant released Wednesday suggests police are treating the case as an intentional crime.
Harris, 33, of Marietta, is charged with felony murder and second-degree cruelty to a child in the death of his son, Cooper.
According to the warrant, Harris placed Cooper in his car seat after the two had breakfast June 18 at a Chick-Fil-A in suburban Atlanta. He says he didn't realize Cooper was still in the car until he was driving home from work that day, approximately seven hours later.
“The car drove up right by the store. An employee came in and said, ‘Call for an ambulance,’ so I dialed it and I walked outside,” said Rodney Smith, a witness who works at a pizza shop in the Akers Mills Square Shopping Center.
“The child looked sweaty and tired. Two guys started to give the boy CPR. I was on the curb and the father and another individual brought the boy out. The father kept circling around us yelling and screaming, “What did I do? Oh my God, my child is dead!” Smith added.
Police said Harris was distressed and had to be physically restrained when he realized his son was gone. But in hindsight, Smith says Harris’ actions didn’t appear to be that of a genuinely grieving father.
“I feel he was putting on a show. If I was in shock and my son just died, I’m going to be doing more than running in a circle waiting for the ambulance to come. I’m taking my son to the doctor myself,” Smith said.
Harris was handcuffed at the scene and booked for murder later that day.
The new information in the criminal warrant claims that "during lunch said accused [Harris] did access the same vehicle through the driver's side door to place an object into the vehicle. Said accused then closed the door and left the car, re-entering his place of business."
“There is no way he forgot about that child for 8 or 9 hours,” Smith told HLN. “Now, he went out to the car on lunch break, there’s no way he didn’t see the baby in the car. Probably saw it at lunch dead, went back to work and tried to remain calm, left and then stopped at the shopping center, to try and make it look like it was an accident.”
Cooper’s funeral will be held Saturday in Alabama, where his family is originally from.
Harris is currently being held without bond at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center.
“People that get caught in those acts,” Smith told HLN. “Could be a mistake, but they have to pay for it in some way. The child is gone. Not just like he fell and bumped his head. Justice needs to be done.”