TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The mother of a Georgia toddler who died in a sweltering SUV emphatically told a crowd at her son’s funeral she loves and stands by her husband, even though he was charged with murder in the child’s death.
“Am I angry with Ross?” Leanna Harris said at the funeral in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “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.”
This was the first time she’s spoken publicly since June 18, when her husband, Justin Ross Harris, was charged with murder and second-degree child cruelty in the death of his son, Cooper Harris. He has pleaded not guilty.
Police said Harris, 33, told them he forgot to drop his 22-month-old son at the day-care center before going to work. The boy died after spending seven hours in a child safety seat in the back of an SUV.
Suspect speaks to funeral by phone
Earlier in the funeral service at University Church of Christ, Harris called from the Cobb County Jail outside Atlanta, where he’s being held without bond, and addressed the crowd by speaker phone. He wasn’t allowed to leave the jail for the funeral.
“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.”
Then Leanna Harris spoke.
“First of all Ross, I love you and I’m doing this for you, OK?” she said. “Two years ago when we welcomed a 6-pound, 8-ounce perfect baby into the world, this never crossed my mind.”
Child ‘was perfect’
Leanna Harris said she worried about not being able to have a child and was joyous when Cooper was born. The couple had been married since 2006.
“He was perfect, and he is perfect,” she said of Cooper. “He changed mine and Ross’ life. I’ve talked to you about the magnitude in which he changed it. As children do, he turned our lives upside down. … I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
The last two nights of Cooper’s life, he had trouble sleeping and ended up in bed between her and her husband, Leanna Harris said.
“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,” she said. “I will cherish that moment forever.”
‘The Lord is holding me up’
Religion has helped her and her husband cope during this stressful time, she said.
Police released search warrants showing that Ross Harris searched the Internet for information on child deaths in hot vehicles. The international media scrutinized the couple’s life.
“Some of you might wonder how I’m even standing here today. I wonder that myself, and I asked myself that question over and over the last week,” she said.
“I should be crumpled into a heap of snot and tears into the dirt, but the Lord is holding me up right now. He is holding Ross up. And he is holding both of us up when we can’t hold ourselves up.”
Leanna Harris followed her son’s casket out of the church, still on the phone with her husband.
Before hanging up, she said, “I love you.”