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Georgia toddler left in car by father died of heatstroke: officials

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia medical examiner has found a 22-month-old toddler who died last week in suburban Atlanta after being left in his father's SUV for seven hours appears to have succumbed to heatstroke, according to local officials.

The medical examiner also found that the child's manner of death was homicide, though a final ruling for the cause and manner of how he died will not be made until toxicology tests are completed, Cobb County police said in a statement released on Wednesday.

Heatstroke, or hyperthermia, can be fatal when the body gets too overheated.

The child's father, Justin Ross Harris, 33, of Marietta, has been charged with felony murder and second-degree child cruelty and is being held in jail without bail.

The case has drawn wide interest after reports of an emotional scene of Harris pulling into a shopping center parking lot on his way home from work and appearing to frantically try to revive his son last Wednesday.

More than 11,500 people have signed an online petition asking the county's district attorney to drop the murder charge in a case Harris' supporters consider a tragic accident.

But in the statement, Cobb County Police Chief John Houser said detectives had collected physical evidence and witness statements that led them to believe a "more serious crime" was committed.

"The chain of events that occurred in this case does not point toward simple negligence, and evidence will be presented to support this allegation," Houser said.

An updated arrest warrant on Tuesday said Harris ate breakfast with his son at a Chick-fil-A restaurant on June 18 and then headed straight to work at Home Depot's headquarters instead of dropping the child off at daycare.

The boy was left strapped in his rear-facing car seat in the back seat of the SUV while Harris worked. Temperatures in the Atlanta area reached 92 degrees Fahrenheit that day, according to the National Weather Service.

Police also said that during his lunch hour, Harris went to his office parking lot and placed something in his SUV through the driver’s side door, then returned to his office.

(Reporting by David Beasley; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Susan Heavey)

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