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Police: father intentionally left son in hot car

(CNN) -- What sounded like the most tragic of accidents -- a dad absentmindedly leaving his toddler in the car on a scorching Georgia day -- is now being treated by police as a horrific, and intentional, crime.

New details from a Cobb County criminal warrant allege that Justin Ross Harris, 33, placed his son, 22-month old Cooper, into a Hyundai Tucson after eating at a fast-food restaurant. He then drove to his workplace a half-mile away, according to the warrant.

Harris returned to the car during his lunch break, opening the driver's side door "to place an object into the vehicle," the warrant states.

The boy was in a rear-facing car seat in the center of the Tucson's back seat, the warrant says.

Later that afternoon on June 18, around 4:16, Harris left his workplace near Vinings outside Atlanta. Minutes later, he pulled into a shopping center asking for assistance with the toddler, who had been in the car for about seven hours at that point, the warrant says.

The average temperature was about 80 degrees that day, but the mercury topped 92 at the hottest point in the day. Police say the temperature was 88 degrees when the child was pronounced dead at the scene.

At first, it seemed like a mistake. Witness Dale Hamilton told CNN affiliate WSB-TV that an emotional Harris pulled into the shopping center after purportedly realizing he had forgotten to drop Cooper off at day care at 8:30 a.m.

"Laid his son on the ground, started doing CPR trying to resuscitate him. Apparently the child wasn't responding," Hamilton told the station.

Police saw a crowd, and when officers began to investigate, they saw the child on the ground. Once it became clear that Cooper was dead, Harris had to be physically restrained, police said.

"There were a number of witnesses -- passers-by in the area who observed basically the father in a very distressed moment," said Sgt. Dana Pierce of the Cobb County police.

Added Hamilton, "He kept saying, 'What have I done? What have I done?' And that's all that I could ascertain that he was saying."

Police seemed sympathetic at first, and Pierce told media that Harris apparently forgot the child was in the back of the vehicle while he was at work.

When Harris was charged with felony murder and child cruelty, there was vigorous debate over whether the heartbroken father should be punished. Surely, he had suffered enough, many thought.

But the story of the hapless father making an innocent mistake quickly changed.

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Washington Times