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Father of slain toddler blames mother, courts for his death

Posted September 28, 2012
Updated September 29, 2012

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— The father of a toddler found dead inside a Raleigh motel room two days ago says he hadn't seen his son in years, and he blamed the boy's mother for the child's death. 

Michelle Danielle Harpster, 29, was charged Thursday in the death of Joshua Callahan, who was found dead inside the Super 8 Motel on New Bern Avenue Wednesday afternoon. A police spokesman said Thursday that Harpster tried to kill herself. 

Police have not said how Joshua died. 

Mark Callahan told WRAL News Friday that he hasn't seen Harpster, 29, since the pair dated in Florida in 2009. 

On Tuesday, a judge in Florida ruled that the custody case would play out in Florida courts. Callahan said he believes Harpster's family members may have told her about the judge's decision, which may have caused her to harm herself.

Callahan said that social services representatives in Maryland called him after Joshua was born there to see if he could take custody. Callahan said he couldn't at the time, but he later filed court documents to gain full custody. 

Callahan, who only saw his son about a dozen times, says Harpster did not want him to have custody and put partial blame on the court system for his death. 

"Dragging the appeals for a whole year and the court battles and stuff, it's costly and timely," he said. "But if they would have listened and ruled in my favor in the beginning, we wouldn't have this problem now."

Callahan's wife, Eunice Hernandez, said that Harpster didn't want Joshua to live with his father after Callahan and Hernandez married in 2010. 

"I was trying to convince her to let Mark see Joshua, and when I told her that me and Mark got married, she said, 'Well, I will never allow Joshua to call you mom,'" Hernandez said.

Harpster was listed in fair condition at WakeMed Thursday evening and is expected to be taken into police custody once she's released. Super 8 death Father of slain toddler blames mother, courts for his death

Officers were called to Room 323 of the 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. The employees said Harpster 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."


Contributions in memory of Joshua Callahan may be made to North Carolina Victim Assistance Network, PO Box 28557, Raleigh, NC 27611-8557.

32 Comments

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  • GravyPig Oct 9, 2012

    ""Dragging the appeals for a whole year and the court battles and stuff, it's costly and timely," he said. "But if they would have listened and ruled in my favor in the beginning, we wouldn't have this problem now.""

    While I am very sorry for this father's loss, he needs to get a grip and take some of that blame. It's easy to blame the courts for "dragging this out". Custody battles do not move quick for those who have lost custody, it's an uphill battle to try and get the child back.

    The truth is (no matter how hard it is to swollow) Mom and Dad are both to blame. If they had not been irresponsible in the first place this poor child would not have been caught up in this battle. It's harsh I know, but it's not as dumb as blaming the court for something that could have been prevented had "someone" put a sock on the pickle. If you know what I mean.

  • dontgetmestarted Oct 2, 2012

    I don't understand where the comments are coming from that the father wasn't paying child support. I didn't read that. Sounds to me like he has been trying for a very long time to gain custody of Joshua and rightfully so. Maybe she was getting the payments, maybe she refused them. Doesn't matter. I didn't get support for my child but still allowed his father to see him not because I was doing the father a favor but rather my son. It was not my son's fault it took his father a few years to finally grow up. Denying your child from having a relationship with their other parent, assuming that other parent isn't a danger to that child, is in and of itself selfish regardless of how much if any support that parent pays you. It's not about YOU nor THEM, it's about your CHILD. Dear Lord when will people ever get this through their heads?!

  • dontgetmestarted Oct 2, 2012

    When I say they will pay it back in other ways by that I mean in caring for their child. This is ASSUMING the parent cares for their child. If the custodial parent isn't caring for their child then the supporting parent needs to take action and gain custody due to negligence and have the other parent pay the support. It doesn't seem to be the case here but sometimes the supporting parent is happy just paying the support. Much easier sending a check every month than to actually be bothered with the day to day care of the child. Unfortunetly, it seems to be the opposite in this case. The mother definitely wasn't a good choice as a custodial parent as is obvious. If she was depressed she could have placed the child somewhere else, ANYWHERE else instead she choose to take his life. NO EXCUSE for that! Little Joshua did not have to die just because she supposedly wanted to take her own life. I'm not so convinced on the latter.

  • dontgetmestarted Oct 2, 2012

    "Any wonder why dads just give up?" fehanline

    NO parent should ever "just give up". I am a parent and believe me I would NEVER just give up. If you ever do that you just aren't fit to be a parent anyway. Your kids may do things growing up that make you feel the same way but you are first and foremost a PARENT. You can NEVER just give up for any reason.

    "Maybe the father had a justified reason why he was not paying. Many times these mothers are not using that support money on the child. They are using the money on themselves and their "new" boyfriend. Now you know that is not right."
    charmcclainlovesdogs2

    There is NEVER a "justified" reason for not supporting your child. Any mother/father worth their salt that takes care of their children will NEVER get rich off of any child support payment unless the supporting parent makes an awful lot of money, 6 figures at least! Even if they spend the support check on themselves they will pay it back to the child in other ways!

  • dontgetmestarted Oct 2, 2012

    Obviously, the mother wasn't the better choice as a custodial parent. Regardless of "what took the father so long" the fact is the MOTHER KILLED this poor little fellow. She obviously didn't have HIS best interest at heart here. Was she so determined that he wouldn't call another woman "mom" that she killed him? Obviously the social services in Maryland didn't think she wanted or needed to be the custodial parent since they called the father when he was born. Whatever the reason she definitely didn't do it because she loved him so much she couldn't bear the thought of losing him since she took his life! She can only be described as selfish and self-serving in this case regardless of her mindset to actually take her own child's life. No other outcome could have been worse for this little one. Prayers to his family.

  • Skywatch_NC Sep 28, 2012

    So very sad that there's such selfishness in that a parent kills their own child. RIP sweet little Joshua.

  • discowhale Sep 28, 2012

    The courts and the lawyers are to blame? Some of you people refuse to EVER blame the responsible person. Te process is the process in 21st Century America. AND all of you who want every T crossed and every I dotted even in cases where 50 witnesses see the crime are partly to blame.

    Everybody should have their day in court. But years of appeals have become the norm. But on this day, only one person is to blame for that child's death, his mother. The rest of the hand wringers are responsible for the system we've now got.

    BUT ONLY the mother killed that child.

  • storchheim Sep 28, 2012

    Guilt becomes blame quit easily in these situations. - hollylama

    You are indeed wise.

  • caryzoo Sep 28, 2012

    So, another beautiful child gone because our court system is favoring parents objections over the the reality of that child's life. I just hope the court system wakes up to the fact that "MOMMY" may NOT be the best choice. Then again, DADDY may be a psycho, like my ex. It took me 2 restraining orders before he got the message to leave us alone. The whole system is so slanted towards a mom, they, the courts, never stop and think how bad this MOM is. RIP, little guy. American courts clearly failed you here. One more lovely child gone because of dumb people in the judiciary position. How many more dead kids do we need to see? WAKE UP...please.

  • Big Mike Sep 28, 2012

    So sad that the Mom could not pick up the phone and tell someone about how she needed a loving, helping hand...!!

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