Local News

Mom charged in 2-year-old's motel room death

Posted September 27, 2012
Updated September 28, 2012

— Police charged a Florida woman Thursday in the death of her toddler, who was found inside a Raleigh motel room Wednesday afternoon.

A police spokesman said Thursday that Michelle Danielle Harpster, 29, who tried to kill herself, was charged with murder in the child's death.

Police did not say how 2-year-old Joshua died.

Harpster was listed in fair condition at WakeMed Thursday evening, and is expected to be taken into police custody once she's released.

Officers were called to Room 323 of the Super 8 motel, at 3804 New Bern Ave., around 1:45 p.m. Wednesday in response to a 911 call from a hotel employee about a guest refusing to leave.

According to the 911 call, the woman was supposed to check out of the hotel but had asked to stay for an extra hour.

When an employee tried to get in the room, the door was locked, and despite repeated knocking, no one answered the door.

Motel employees told WRAL News that Harpster was involved in a custody dispute with Joshua's father and that she had been staying at the motel off and on for about three months.

The employees said she had dead-bolted the door and placed furniture in front of it to keep anyone from getting inside.

Witnesses said that, once police arrived, they saw through the door that Harpster and Joshua were on a bed. She had cuts on her arms and legs, and the boy was foaming at the mouth.

"It was kind of devastating," said motel guest Domeniyce Harris. "Every time we had seen him before, he was a nice little kid. I don't understand why she would do that to him." Mother charged in toddler's Raleigh motel room death Mother charged in toddler's Raleigh motel room death

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

Miriah Hill described Harpster as a devoted mother who cared deeply for Joshua. YouTube videos that appear to have been posted by Harpster also seem to show a warm and loving relationship between mother and child.

"She was struggling and she didn't think she could handle it anymore," Hill said. "She was saying that if anything was going to happen, she didn't want them to take her son, so she would kill him and then herself."

Sue Lisak, who lives near the motel, said she got to know Harpster during her stay in Raleigh and reiterated that the mother was growing "really desperate."

"She wasn't feeling like things were going in any direction where she could save herself," Lisak said. "It's sad."


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  • dontgetmestarted Oct 2, 2012

    troymiller...I cannot believe you actually think this mother should not be held responsible for her actions! I know times are hard and people are desperate but that doesn't justify killing your children! The father WANTED this child all she had to do was give him custody if she couldn't properly care for him. How do you think people in the Great Depression felt? Hardships are no excuse for killing your children in fact there is NO excuse for it. I don't think "hardship" is the reason for this woman killing her child since she killed him a day after a court ruling that was NOT in her favor. Please, it's time we START holding people accoutable for their actions, not the other way around.

  • troymiller Oct 2, 2012

    Is it just me or does anyone else see the bigger problem here. What has happened here is terrible and the mother in NO way should not be held responsible for her actions, but people are desperate!! They see no way out of hard times...no jobs, no money....it's a US wide epidemic. This is happening at an alarming rate; poverty stricken people who have nothing and see NO hope for them or their loved ones future, so they see living as futile and se death as an easier out. It's time to help on another, support one another with love, food, $$, whatever the need! Take this and sadly many other cases that are identical to it and have some empathy for your fellow man. You never know what a person is going through; A wise man once said, “People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care”…words for us to live by. Such a sad story; there is no way that this didn’t touch you if you have children. So thankful for my family and what we have!!

  • passport423 Sep 28, 2012

    I doubt anyone would be defending this woman had she been a father instead of a mother. Definite double standard here. And I don't think the courts giving custody earlier would necessarily have prevented this tragedy. She more than likely killed her son regardless of when she lost custody because if she couldn't have him, no one could. (Exactly what men who kill there wives when they leave are doing.) It's power, anger and control, not love and concern.

  • rachel Sep 28, 2012

    as someone who often has to call these shelters to try and help someone, it is not that easy. Many of them are full, some you have to get in line daily to get a bed in them and whether or not you get in depends on the length of the line. Some are for battered women only, some require a several week stay. Mostly, it is just they are all full anytime I have had to call one and ask for a bed emergently for someone. Its a shortage with an increasing need.

  • lornadoone Sep 28, 2012

    lornadoone, Jeez, I wish people would be kind to others who are trying to educate themselves instead of lashing out. Did not mean to offend you by being so ridiculous, I was just uninformed. Simple as that.

    Yup, in your first comment, it sure sounded like you were trying to educate yourself /sarcasm

    I get sick of people blaming others when the blaming individual is "uninformed", so I don't feel like being nice!

  • Mon Account Sep 28, 2012

    "Another shining example of how liberals make the criminal a victim and the victim a criminal."-HerecomestheTwister

    That makes zero sense. Please go vote early and get politics out of your system. A family was destroyed here and you want to politicize it with illogical nonsense.

  • Obamacare has risen Sep 28, 2012

    Just watched the interview with the father, sounds as if our court system may have contributed to this act being possible.

    So, is the father a complete dead beat?

  • muggs Sep 28, 2012

    Just watched the interview with the father, sounds as if our court system may have contributed to this act being possible.

  • TheBigLC Sep 28, 2012

    Another shining example of how liberals make the criminal a victim and the victim a criminal.

  • awr117 Sep 28, 2012

    I'd say it is safe to say that she shouldn't of had custody over the child.