Local News

Father to be charged in 4-year-old's death

Posted September 22, 2010 5:30 a.m. EDT
Updated September 22, 2010 9:04 p.m. EDT

Joseph Mitchell and his son, Blake (Photo from Facebook)

— Close friends say that the family of a Durham County man accused of killing his 4-year-old son was facing hard financial times.

Joseph Anthony Mitchell, 46, of 17 Thistle Trace in Hillsborough, will be charged with first-degree murder in the death of his 4-year-old son, Blake, and two counts of attempted murder in connection with his 10-year-old son, Devon, and 13-year-old daughter, Lexi, according to Durham County Sheriff Worth L. Hill.

Authorities said that Blake died of asphyxiation. Mitchell tried to commit suicide and was hospitalized for self-inflicted wounds, Hill said. He was placed under guard at Duke Hospital and will be officially charged once released.

"This case, it's tragic. It's as simple as I can put it. It's just tragic," Lt. Stan Harris said.

A 911 call was placed around 12:30 a.m. from the home near the Durham-Orange county line, where Mitchell, his children, wife Christine and her father, Pete Perolini, lived.

In the 911 call, Blake's mother tries to resuscitate him, while Perolini, talks to dispatchers, and Mitchell has barricaded himself in another room.

"My grandson is 4 years old. My daughter is trying to break into a door," Perolini said. "We don't know if he's alive or not alive. We don't know what's going on."

Authorities haven't commented on a motive in the case. Investigators said they had trouble interviewing family members because they were so distraught.

Neighbors and family friends said that the Mitchells were a close family but were facing financial hardships.

Family friend Donna Tanzi described the Mitchells as "a very loving family" that "did everything together," including attending Saint Matthew Catholic Church in Durham."

According to court records, the family's house in the Hardscrabble Plantation subdivision was foreclosed on in mid-June. Friends said that Mitchell, an EMS worker, had been unemployed for about a year, and his wife was also out of work.

"He must have snapped," Tanzi said of Mitchell. "I think something may have happened to him, because he would never do this."

Neighbors said they're trying to process the child's death and will support the family in any way they can.

"They were very nice, loved their family," neighbor Ralph Sears said. "Right now, we just hope that we can help the family out any way, whether it's praying or food or whatever. It's just a sad day."