Local News

Father of slain toddler blames mother, courts for his death

Posted September 28, 2012 12:51 p.m. EDT
Updated September 29, 2012 9:01 p.m. EDT

— 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.

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.