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Mother in toddler's hot car death wants privacy to grieve

By Dana Ford, CNN
updated 11:00 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Media focus has "fostered a poisonous atmosphere" for Leanna Harris, her lawyer says
  • She is "living every parent's nightmare," the attorney says
  • Her husband is charged in the death of their toddler son; he has pleaded not guilty
  • The child died after being left in a hot car last month

(CNN) -- The mother whose toddler died in a hot car near Atlanta last month says she finds comfort in faith but struggles to get through each day.

"Leanna Harris is living every parent's nightmare -- the child she bore and loved every moment of his life has died. For most parents, it is difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend such a thing.

"But for Leanna, that nightmare is all too real. She will never again be able to tuck him into bed at night and return later to check on him," her attorney said Tuesday in a statement.

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The statement marked the first time Leanna Harris has publicly described her feelings since she made remarks at the funeral for her 22-month-old son, Cooper.

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His death in a hot car tapped parents' outrage, garnered national headlines, and sparked a wide-ranging debate about whether more can be done to prevent such deaths.

"She mourns Cooper's death deeply, in her own private way. She takes comfort from a strong faith in God, but the loss is still overwhelming. Getting through each day seems almost impossible," said Harris' attorney, Lawrence Zimmerman.

He asked for privacy for his client, comparing her situation to that of vindicated Atlanta Olympic park bombing suspect Richard Jewell.

"She asks that she be allowed to grieve in private without reporters calling, following or watching her home. Since his death, she has been unable to have that time of mourning that every bereaved parent needs. Please allow her the dignity to mourn her son in private," Zimmerman wrote.

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'Constant speculation and innuendo'

Police say Leanna Harris' husband, Justin Ross Harris, left Cooper strapped into a car seat in his SUV for seven hours while he went to work on June 18.

Records show that the mercury topped 92 that day, and police say the temperature was 88 degrees when the boy was pronounced dead in a parking lot not far from his father's workplace.

Ross Harris has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and child cruelty. He remains in jail.

Leanna Harris is not a suspect, although police have alleged she behaved strangely in the days before and moments after the death of her boy.

For example, Ross and Leanna Harris took turns dropping off and picking up their son at day care, and on the day Cooper died, Leanna arrived and was told that Cooper hadn't been dropped off that morning.

"Ross must have left him in the car," she allegedly told day-care employees.

The day-care workers told police they tried to tell her that there could be a multitude of reasons that Cooper wasn't dropped off, but she insisted that Ross left him in the vehicle, Cobb County police Detective Phil Stoddard testified at a hearing for Ross Harris.

He also said that Leanna Harris made an odd remark to her husband while the two were in an interview room after Ross Harris' arrest.

"She asked him -- she had him sit down, and he starts going through this. And she looks at him, and she's like, 'Well, did you say too much?' " the detective testified.

Leanna Harris' attorney did not address those specific allegations in his statement, but warned against jumping to conclusions.

"Reporters have delved into Leanna's upbringing, her employment, quizzed people for information about her marriage, and her sex life. The constant attention has prevented her from returning to work," Zimmerman wrote.

"Dealing with her grief has become more difficult as the days go on, however, in large part because of the constant speculation and innuendo in the media. Newspapers, television and online media have fostered a poisonous atmosphere in which Leanna's every word, action and emotion -- or failure to cry in front of a crowd -- is scrutinized for some supposed hidden meaning."

'I miss him with all of my heart'

Leanna Harris told CNN at the beginning of the investigation that a lawyer had advised her not to speak to the media, so not much is known about her.

She did not testify at her husband's probable cause hearing, but arrived before the proceeding began and took a seat with family members, holding hands with the woman sitting next to her.

She did speak at her son's funeral. She told mourners in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that before Cooper's birth, she was concerned "about never being able to have a child."

Leanna Harris described the toddler as perfect and told how he changed her and her husband's lives.

"As children do, he turned our lives upside-down," she said. "Cleaning, changing diapers, dinner, bath time. Finally, what I would call mommy time. I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Leanna Harris said Cooper had had trouble sleeping of late, and he had slept with her and her husband the two nights before he died, "snuggling in between both of us."

"I remember turning over in the middle of the night. His mouth was open and his full toddler lips just breathing right into my face. I will cherish that moment forever."

She said she was "happy" that Cooper would miss some of life's letdowns, including his first heartbreak, his parents' and grandparents' deaths and who to sit with at lunch at middle school.

"I miss him with all of my heart. Would I bring him back? No. To bring him back into this broken world would be selfish," she said.

The mother closed by saying that she wasn't angry with her husband and that Cooper "meant the world" to Ross, whom she described as a "wonderful daddy."

Robbins: In hot car death, leave the mom alone

CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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