Local News

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

Posted September 27, 2012 11:49 a.m. EDT
Updated September 28, 2012 5:53 a.m. EDT

— 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."

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."