Little has emerged about father of 22-month-old boy who died in car
But people who say they knew him praise him as a good man
He's charged with murder in the June 18 death of Cooper Harris
Prosecutors say he may be a criminal. People who say they know him describe him as a great dad.
So what’s the story with Justin Ross Harris, the Cobb County, Georgia, man accused of murder after leaving his toddler strapped into his car seat under a blistering Southern sun?
The truth is, we don’t know much. Police and prosecutors are being tight-lipped about the case against Harris, who is charged with felony murder and second-degree child cruelty in the death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris. He’s refusing visitors to the Cobb County jail – including CNN. His family isn’t talking, and his attorney has not returned repeated telephone calls from CNN.
Here’s what we do know:
Harris is 33 years old. He has worked at Home Depot for two years. Home Depot Corporate Communications Manager Catherine H. Woodling said he worked “on our .com business, but I’m not sure what his title is.”
Home Depot placed him on unpaid leave after the charges were filed.
He held jobs at the University of Alabama from August 2001 until May 2006 as a parking monitor and later as a mail delivery clerk, said Cathy Andreen, university director of media relations.
He worked as a police dispatcher in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, from June 10, 2006, to May 22, 2009, according to Police Department spokesman Sgt. Brent Blankley. He said the department would confirm only Harris’ tenure, and not any details from his work history, so we don’t know why he left the job.
Three years later, Harris graduated from the University of Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in commerce and business administration. From there, he went to Home Depot.
The boy’s mother, Leanna Harris, is listed as having the same home address as the father, but she told CNN last week that she’s been advised not to discuss the case with the media. They were married May 7, 2006, in Tuscaloosa, according to the Tuscaloosa County marriage license clerk.
A woman who knew Harris as a teenager but hasn’t seen him in 15 years described him as “a good kid” who spent a lot of time at University Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa, where Cooper is to be remembered at a funeral Saturday.
“We were always happy to have him in our home. And we were happy that he was friends with our child,” Carol Brown told CNN’s Nick Valencia.
People who say they know Harris posted change.org petitions asking that the charges against him be dropped but closed the petitions this week. One of the organizers posted, “based on the recent developments this petition is no longer revelant.”
CNN couldn’t immediately confirm the authenticity of the petition comments, many of which speak glowingly of Harris as a man and a father.
One petition signer, identified as Matt Wiley of Northpoint, Alabama, described Harris as “a great husband and a great father.”
Another, identified as Michael Gordon of Northpoint, wrote of what he said was Harris’ “grace and exemplary attitude.”
“He has been nothing but a caring father and supporting husband. He worked full time and went to school for many years to get where he wanted to be,” he said.
A petition signer identified as William Overstreet wrote that he couldn’t imagine that man he says he knows intentionally killed his child.
“I’ve known Ross for over 10 years and he is a selfless man who loved people and loved his family more,” the post reads. “NOTHING in his life even hints at this behavior.”
CNN’s Devon Sayers and Marlena Baldacci contributed to this report.