But public sympathy began to ebb when law enforcement indicated perhaps there was more to the story. Below is a timeline of what we know now, followed by an overview of the legal questions facing Cooper's father, Justin Harris, 33, who is being held in jail without bond.
Justin Ross Harris — The father has been charged with felony murder and cruelty to a child. Harris and his wife, Leanna, live in Marietta, Georgia, and Justin works at Home Depot corporate headquarters in Atlanta. He has been jailed without bond since his arrest on June 18 and will go before the magistrate on Thursday, July 3, for a probable cause hearing.
Leanna Harris — Cooper's mother and Harris' wife. In a warrant made public before Cooper's funeral, Leanna told police she had done internet searches about how hot it would have to be in a car for a child to succumb and die. She publicly voiced support for her husband during Cooper's funeral.
While shock and sorrow rippled through the community and then nationwide, the tide of public support turned quickly when the magistrate court of Cobb County released an affidavit reporting that when investigators interviewed Justin Harris, "he stated that he recently researched, through the internet, child deaths inside vehicles and what temperature it needs to be for that to occur. Justin stated that he was fearful this could happen."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that search warrant affidavits show “Leanna Harris, the child’s mother, was also questioned regarding the incident and made similar statements regarding researching in car deaths and how it occurs." To date, law enforcement has not released the timing of either parent's online searches about car deaths.
"The chain of events that occurred in this case does not point toward simple negligence and evidence will be presented to support this allegation," Cobb County police chief John R. Houser said in a statement. "In fairness to everyone involved in this emotional case, I would ask that you not make conclusions based on rumor or suspicions and let our judicial system work as it is designed."
Soon after news of Cooper's death spread, a Change.org petition was started, calling on authorities to drop the charges. That petition is now closed. A Facebook page titled "Justin Ross Harris Is Guilty" has only 30 likes.
In Cooper's obituary, published in the Tuscaloosa News, the family requested donations in Cooper's name to the Homer Fund, which is Home Depot's nonprofit employee support foundation.
"In lieu of flowers, the family would like to give back to a very special fund that has chosen to support us during this tragic time. Please make donations to The Homer Fund."
The guest log for Cooper's obituary had more than 240 entries at press time, including comments from people nationwide sharing condolences and often referring only to Cooper's mother "and family."
Multiple media outlets reported from Cooper's funeral, where Leanna Harris spoke out in support of her husband. "Am I angry with Ross?" Leanna Harris told attendees. "Absolutely not. It has never crossed my mind. Ross is and was and will be, if we have more children, a wonderful father. Ross is a wonderful daddy and leader for our household. Cooper meant the world to him."
Media reports share that while Harris remained in the Cobb County jail and could not attend the funeral, he called in and spoke to the auditorium on speakerphone. "Thank you for everything you've done for my boy," he said. "Good life... [inaudible] No words to say. Just horrible... [inaudible] I'm just sorry I can't be there." He told everyone he loved them and started crying again.
Harris is being held without bond at the Cobb County jail after pleading not guilty. He will go before a judge Thursday, July 3, for a probable cause hearing.
Because he's charged with murder, his case will be turned over for grand jury review if the magistrate finds probable cause for that charge to stand.
CNN legal analyst Mark O'Mara, who is also a defense attorney, addresses the issue of simple negligence vs. gross negligence in a column urging readers to withhold judgment until the justice system has had a chance to evaluate the facts.
"Harris probably acted with simple negligence," O'Mara wrote. "If he did, he will deal with having been the cause of his son's death for the rest of his life, but he should not be held criminally liable.
"There is one other possibility to consider. If Harris showed a reckless disregard for the consequences of his actions or a blatant indifference to his legal duties, then he may be guilty of gross negligence. If it is determined that Harris acted in a grossly negligent way, then he should be held criminally responsible.
Thursday afternoon's court hearing brought to light chilling facts about the day Cooper Harris died.
Stoddard: Harris says the couple was having financial troubles and dad had been passed over for a promotion and a new job. #HotCarDeath— Victor Blackwell CNN (@VictorCNN) July 3, 2014
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