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Update: Dad charged with murder after 22-month-old left in hot SUV for 7 hours

Justin Harris, 33, of Marietta, was charged with murder in the death of his 22-month-old son who police said was left in a hot SUV for seven hours while his dad was at work, Cobb County officials said.
Justin Harris, 33, of Marietta, was charged with murder in the death of his 22-month-old son who police said was left in a hot SUV for seven hours while his dad was at work, Cobb County officials said.
Cobb County Jail

A dad who left his 22-month-old boy in a steaming SUV for seven hours while he worked Wednesday has been charged in the child's death.

Justin Ross Harris, 33, of Marietta, was charged with felony murder and first-degree cruelty to a child, Cobb County police said Thursday.

Police said Harris “willfully deprived the child of sustenance to the extent that the child’s health or wellbeing was jeopardized,” according to the arrest warrant.

“Said accused did leave a 22-month-old juvenile male unattended and strapped into a child car seat in a parked vehicle for approximately seven hours during daytime hours after which the child was found deceased,” the warrant also stated. That day the temperature reached almost 90 degrees, the warrant said.

Harris was being held without bond at the Cobb County jail Thursday, police spokesman Sgt. Dana Pierce said.

So far, police have still not released the name of the 22-month-old and the medical examiner’s office is still working to confirm the manner and cause of the child’s death, Pierce said. It’s also unclear how long after he had been left in the back seat that the child died.

Investigators said Harris was supposed to drop off his son at daycare between 8:30 and 9 a.m., but instead showed up at his office and left his Hyundai Tucson in the garage with the child still in the car seat.

Shortly after 4 p.m., the dad returned to his vehicle in the Cumberland Mall area and had drove for a couple of miles when he realized that the child was in the seat.

The man then pulled off an access road to the Akers Mill Square shopping center at 2967 Cobb Pkwy. in southeast Atlanta, took out the child out of the SUV and placed him on the ground in order to start treatment. A crowd gathered and some attempted to help treat the child while others called 911, Pierce said.

“He was lifeless, he was in the same position as if he were sitting in the car seat,” Dale Hamilton, a witness, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s something that I’ll remember for a long time.”

Officers who were already patrolling the area, noticed the crowd and went to investigate, Pierce said. They took over treatment, but immediately realized the toddler was dead and had been dead for quite some time, Pierce said.

The distraught dad, became combative with police, and had to be handcuffed, police said.

“What have I done? What have I done?” witnesses heard the man screaming, according to media reports. “I’ve killed our child.”

Investigators talked to Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds before arresting Harris, according to the AJC. Reynolds said Thursday the investigation is “far, far from over.”

“I don’t know where this investigation will ultimately lead,” Reynolds said in a phone interview with WSB Radio.
When a suspect is charged with a felony — such as cruelty to children in the first degree — which results in the loss of life, a murder charge is appropriate, Reynolds said.

“It’s just a terrible, God-awful situation,” Reynolds said. “I can’t imagine, I can’t fathom what any parent would be going through at this stage. It’s the type of case that affects the community.”

Harris, who goes by Ross, is a Tuscaloosa, Ala., native who has been working for Home Depot for two years, according to his Facebook profile. Harris graduated from The University of Alabama in 2012 with a degree in Management Information Systems, according to his LinkedIn page. His son, Cooper, was born in August of that year, the AJC reported.

Harris, his wife and son were renting a condo off Terrell Mill Road, but were hoping to buy a home with a backyard where their child could play, their landlord told the AJC. Joe Saini, who rents the family their condo, said Harris and his wife are “very, very nice” people who were in love with their baby.