On the morning of June 18th of 2014 Justin Ross Harris strapped his 22 month old son, Cooper, into the back seat of his Hyundai Tucson and headed off to work. Ross stopped at a fast food restaurant for breakfast, he quickly went inside for a bite to eat with his son. When they were done, Ross strapped Cooper back into his car seat and they were on the road again. The father was supposed to drop little Cooper off at daycare, but he didn’t; Ross drove straight to work at Home Depot Headquarters instead, pulling in at exactly 9:25 am.
It was 90° on that sultry southern summer day. After working his 7 hours shift, Ross walked out to his vehicle, buckled up, and headed towards a movie theater; he drove for 7 whole minutes before he realized something was amiss. Witnesses would say they saw the man pull into a strip mall, tires squealing, then Ross was heard screaming, “What have I done!“. Little baby Cooper was already deceased when police arrived on the scene, he’d perished from hyerthermia.
Around this time baby Cooper’s mama, Leanna, had walked into her son’s daycare to pick him up. When she was informed that little Cooper had never made it to daycare that day, she immediately blurted out, “Ross must’ve left him in the car!“.
At the scene of the crime, Ross was placed in the back seat of the police cruiser and taken to the station for questioning. Though this type of accidental death occurs much too often and parents are very rarely charged in these cases, there was just something off about Ross. He cursed at officers, would scream out in frustration (as one would expect) but then he’d look around to see who was watching; police believed they were witnessing a performance. Within two minutes of being placed in the backseat of the cruiser Ross was complaining about how hot it was inside the vehicle, he said that he felt like he wasn’t getting any air! Just that sink in for a moment!
While Leanna was adamant that Ross had always been an amazing father, investigators started to dig into the man’s personal life anyways. They found that, once inside his office that day, Ross immediately began sexting with at least 6 different women – including at least two girls who were underage; it seems he’d been having affairs with just about anyone who would have him, including hooking up with sex workers just days prior to his son’s death. Police found comments left online about how much this father missed the life he’d led before the baby came along. The icing on the cake was the discovery that that Ross had extensively researched hot car death, and precisely how long it would take for a child to die in a vehicle. There was proof that he’d watched a video about animals being left in a hot car just 5 days before Cooper died. On top of this, Justin had googled “how to survive prison”.
That’s suspicious, but you can’t convict someone on their search history; police decided to check out the surveillance videos around Justin’s job site. Home Depot cameras showed that this man had sat in his vehicle a good 30 seconds that terrible morning before getting out and leaving Cooper to die. There was another video of Ross leaving to have lunch with a coworker sometime after noon. While out, Ross purchased lightbulbs. When he came back from lunch, the father walked to his SUV, opened the driver’s side door, placed the lightbulbs inside, then went back to work as usual. Still, as busy as Ross had been on this day, with all the sex talk and all, at 3:16 he made time to text his wife and ask her what time she was going to pick up Cooper (referred to as “my buddy” in the text) from daycare.
Ross was charged with 2nd degree cruelty to children, felony attempt to sexually exploit children, two counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors, malice murder, and 2 counts of felony murder. Keep in mind, some of these charges were in regards to sending and receiving nudes to and from underage girls.
The defense said that Cooper must’ve fallen asleep on the car ride; the baby was so quiet that the father, in a morning fog, forgot about him. Maybe this would’ve been somewhat understandable, had the man been on autopilot during his early morning commute, but the ride from the restaurant to Ross’s workplace was only half of a mile – we’re talking about a 3 minute ride!
One of the most upsetting details which helped convict this man, a witness who had been at the scene on this day stated that the SUV had carried a terrible stench that afternoon. I won’t elaborate on this, surely you know what the source of the smell had been. How could Justin have gotten inside that vehicle, and driven for several minutes while smelling that stench without realizing something was terribly wrong?
A jury found that Ross has missed his old life, he missed being single and carefree; they believed that Cooper’s father had purposefully left him in that hot SUV to die that day. This baby killer was sentenced to life without parole. Though Leanna does stand by her statement that Justin had never been anything other than a doting father and she could never see him purposely hurting their son, she did divorce him. Plenty of people blame the mother for Cooper’s death as well; some believe that she knew what was gonna happen ahead of time, or maybe she was covering for Justin. After his initial interrogation Leanna had asked her husband “Did you say too much?” which, of course, made people wonder if the mother was somehow involved. In my opinion, this poor woman was in shock. How difficult would it be to believe that your life partner is capable of purposely doing something like this? Investigators did diligently look into the mother, but eventually Leanna was cleared of all charges. That said, her reputation took a major hit.
What do you think? Did Ross purposely murder his child? Did his wife play any part?
This is another repost from a few years ago. It’s September, and it’s still hot outside – especially here in the south. While I catch hell every time I post the following tips, if it helps save one child from accidentally being left in a hot vehicle, it’s worth it. I’m sure most parents can’t imagine forgetting their kid (personally I’ve raised four children and never forgot one of my babies) it happens all the time. It’s said that in the past 16 years more than 700 babies have been accidentally forgotten by a parent who loved them, and on average 38 children pass away each year due to being left in a hot vehicle. This is what experts advise to help parents remember.
- Experts say you’re more likely to forget your child if there’s been a change in your routine, even a very minor change. If you’re doing anything outside of the norm, please be more careful.
- Keep something which belongs to your child (diaper bag, a bottle, stuffed animal, etc.) up front in the passenger seat – I’ve recently seen people hanging tags on their driver’s side door as a reminder. You’re very likely to see that item before leaving the vehicle, and there’s a good chance you’ll remember the child. It’s also a good idea to leave an item which you know you’re going to need in the back seat with your child: cell phone, handbag, wallet, etc.
- One tip from experts includes installing the car seat in the middle of the backseat where it’s more likely to be seen.
- Many daycares/sitters are more than happy to call you if for some reason your child doesn’t make it in that day.
- Be careful when coming home from work, many parents have been tired after working all day and forgotten the child in their vehicle while home. Having something at your front door which makes you think of the baby is a good idea.
*Again, this may sound extreme or even silly, but no one is perfect and it’s better to be safe than sorry. One bad day, one terrible mistake, that’s all it takes! Be safe, y’all 🤍