When I first heard that a Georgia father left a toddler in a hot car—a case of a man who unintentionally forgot his toddler to die in a hot car after driving to work—I was heartbroken. This is one of those infamous warning stories that every parent hates to hear yet can completely relate to. But as an outsider, and with all due respect to the poor deceased toddler, I must confess that I am relieved to learn that the father in the story may not have been so innocent.
Whenever a story like this comes up, media hysteria ensues. And rightly so. Every parent can identify with another well-meaning parent accidentally leaving their child in a car. It is every parent’s worst nightmare to unintentionally harm or kill their child, myself included. This type of story is the perfect fodder for fear-mongering headlines designed to get scared parents to click—again, myself included.
But as the saying goes, there’s always more to the story. Upon further investigation into the toddler’s death, police are uncovering some uncomfortable details:
A newly filed arrest warrant supporting the murder charge against 33-year-old Justin Ross Harris states that he stopped with his son for breakfast and also returned to put something inside his vehicle around lunchtime while the child was inside it.
Cobb County Police Chief John Houser said Wednesday that he understands tragic accidents happen, but evidence indicates a “more serious crime” has been committed. He didn’t elaborate on what the evidence was.
Sadly, there’s an even more disturbing twist to the story:
Sources told an Atlanta news reporter the father whose son was found dead in a hot car used his work computer to search how long it would take an animal to die in a hot car.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 34 years. What I know about this case shocks my conscience as a police officer, a father and a grandfather,” said Cobb County Police Sgt. Dana Pierce.
The more that I read about this case, the more saddened and sickened I am. While we still have no official conclusion to what this father’s motive was, many reported details can lead us to believe that the event was not likely to be a simple accident.
While I am still distraught for the family of this young child, it is important to make this distinction. You know and I know that we are all parenting scared. I spend a great chunk of my week googling information found in sensationalist news stories like this to determine if my kid could drop dead from secondary drowning from bathwater, falling too hard off the couch, or when I purposely leave my child in the car for 30-60 seconds when picking up my second child from daycare.
We may never know why this father allegedly did what he did, but it is safe to say that his horrific story does not apply to all parents, when all details are taken into account. I personally am sick of feeling that ball of fear in my stomach every time I hear a story like this in the news. Let me be clear when I say: Education about the possibility of accidentally leaving a child in a hot car is critically important and will save lives. Hysterical news reports with an “it could happen to you at any time if you ever let down your guard or turn your back for even a minute” message are not beneficial to parents. Well-informed parents will make smart decisions. Pushing paranoia on parents takes it too far.