NC mom charged with murder of 4-month-old has previous child abuse charges, officials say

North Carolina news

GIBSONVILLE, N.C. (WGHP) — A mother was arrested over the weekend and faces child abuse and first-degree murder charges after a 4-month-old died last year, according to Gibsonville police.

A medical examiner’s report states that last August, 25-year-old Heaven Harlan’s 4-month-old son fell out of a swing inside her home and later died. She was not charged with murder in the death of Matais Zapto until Saturday.

This was not her first arrest for child abuse. She faced two other charges in October when injuries were found on her two other infants. 

This case is something that’s weighing heavily on the people who live in Gibsonville. 

“This case has had an emotional toll on our officers, too,” said Gibsonville Police Chief Ron Parrish. 

Triplets under the age of 8 months old were all abused by their mother, officials said.

“It’s really shocking,” said Albert Riddle, a former neighbor. 

In October of last year, two months after baby Matais Zapto’s tragic death, investigators started looking into the child’s mother, Heaven Harlan. The other two infants were taken into child protective services custody around this time. 

This was weeks after she was charged with two counts of intentional child abuse on her other two infant children. 

“We realized at that time, in the back of our minds, where this case was going to head, and we just wanted to make sure we had all the pieces together,” Parrish said. 

In Aug. 2020, police were called to Harlan’s home for an unresponsive baby. The medical examiner’s report states baby Matais fell out of his mechanical swing, causing blunt force trauma to the head and neck.  

“They only had one crib and one little swing, and they were rotating the kids. Three kids from the crib to the swing,” Parrish said. 

Parrish said they recently learned the mother was accused of playing a role in the death. 

“We took our time. We did our due diligence, and we wanted to make sure we had a solid case,” he said. 

On Saturday, a warrant for first-degree murder was issued for Harlan. She was arrested that same night in Caswell County. 

A man who lived in Harlan’s neighborhood said he spent time inside the home helping Robert Zapto, Harlan’s partner and the children’s father, fix things around the house. He said never saw signs of abuse. 

“What I could see when I was working in that house, they took awesome care of those kids,” Riddle said.  

Riddle said Harlan Zapto moved out of the mobile home community a few months ago. 

“It takes a special kind of evil to abuse a child,” Parrish said. 

WGHP spoke to the uncle of the babies off camera. 

He said he and his partner noticed Harlan exhibiting weird behavior like not showing them the kids when they would ask. She would tell them they were asleep. 

He said he never thought the kids were being physically abused. 

“If there’s anyone out there that has any information about any child, or any person for that matter, that’s being abused, please pick up the phone and do the right thing,” Parrish said. 

Harlan is in Guilford County Jail without bond. Her first court appearance is set for Tuesday. 

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