Local News

Autopsy: Mom confessed to smothering toddler at Raleigh motel

Posted April 4, 2013

— A woman charged with murder after her 2-year-old son was found unresponsive in a Raleigh motel room last year confessed to smothering him, according to an autopsy report released Thursday.

The autopsy determined that Joshua Callahan's injuries were consistent with asphyxia due to smothering and cited a police report that said Michelle Harpster admitted to killing her son before attempting suicide.

Police found the two inside a Super 8 Motel on New Bern Avenue on Sept. 26 after a motel employee reported that Harpster, 29, was locked in the room and would not leave.

Harpster was involved in a custody dispute with Joshua's father, and she had been staying in the motel on and off for about three months. 

Police have not offered a motive in the killing, but other long-term residents at the motel said Harpster was growing increasingly desperate as she struggled to provide for her son.


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  • renna Apr 5, 2013

    WOW!!! I'm sorry in advance if anyone disagrees and i know I didn't know this girl's situation but I think If it were me and I was struggling to provide for my child I would gave her/him to their father who clearly was trying to fight for custody. Taking a child's life like that is....just wrong and CLEARLY something is not right with that girl....all I can say "May God have mercy on your soul" like Bartmeister- the baby is the one that had to pay the price. Poor lil angel....

  • SailbadTheSinner Apr 5, 2013

    Medea to the very teeth….

    Euripides told the same story about 2,500 years ago….


  • Bartmeister Apr 5, 2013

    This has to be post-partum related. Sounds like unwed and a custody battle was too much. Dang shame the baby pays the price.

  • peace2u Apr 5, 2013

    When the motel owners saw her desperation, why didn't they call the police? They are accomplices in this child's death!

  • stephen_78 Apr 5, 2013

    another result of the custody/child support system. being a woman, she was on the good side of it, so there is no excuse for what she did. it's usually the guy that gets dragged through the mud and treated like a criminal for being the father--even if he is present and paying. he may have been kept from his son while she was busy being depressed. no reason to kill...period.

  • angelienna Apr 5, 2013

    This woman needs to be in jail forever. She killed her child. She had options...she had her child's father who was trying to win custody as well as countless organizations and apparently family who at least told her that the courts had ruled that the case would be held in Florida. There are always options, there are always other choices... no one has the right to take the life of their child and ONLY the mother is to blame. The dad may not be perfect, but he wasn't there and had no part in this child's death.

  • free2bme Apr 5, 2013

    There is no excuse for killing a baby. There are avenues/places to get help for single mothers if you want help. She tried to kill herself but if she really was intending to kill herself she would have done it in one shot like she killed her baby. It seems as if this lady was just trying to prevent the father from ever getting custody of his child.

  • NotUrTypicalAmerican Apr 5, 2013

    What makes a parent do such a thing? - Crew Dog

    Post-partum depression, for one. Could be another myriad of things that this woman was going through. In hindsight, we can only wish that other mothers like she, would make the better decision of giving the infant up to someone who can help the child, or herself.

  • NotUrTypicalAmerican Apr 5, 2013

    Can’t our system make a distinction between the lowest, most broken people among us and the truly dangerous criminals? Why does there have to be a one-size-fits-all category: Murderer?

    Some of the smartest people I know are lawyers, judges, and legislators. Can’t we do better than th - jdraleigh

    I hear you and I wholeheartedly agree. That woman is probably suffering far more than anyone on here realizes. What a tragic story.

  • 426X3 Apr 5, 2013

    Aren't there adoption organizations that could have taken this child? What makes a parent do such a thing? Where is the father? He should be held somewhat responsible for this.