Woman Charged in Fatal Day Care Fire Previously Started Fire at High School

PHOTO Jessica TataPlayABC News
WATCH Four Kids Die in Daycare Fire, Owner Flees Country

High school classmates of Jessica Tata, the woman charged in connection to the fatal day care fire that left four toddlers dead, describe an isolated teen who once set fire to the school's bathroom.

"She was kind of like a bully," a former classmate said. "If you were in her way, she would have no problem bumping and mowing you over. She would just beeline to where she was going and not even care if anybody was in her way."

Tata is a fugitive. She is believed to have fled to Nigeria over the past weekend. The 22-year-old Houston woman is facing seven charges of reckless injury to a child and three charges of child endangerment for the fatal Feb. 24 fire at her home day care.

Tata started high school at Taylor High School in Katy, Texas in 2002. During her freshmen year, classmates said that Tata started a fire in the girl's bathroom.

"She was just a mean person. She didn't really have a lot of friends. I think that's kind of why she did the fire incident," said the former classmate, who asked that her name not be used.

Taylor High School officials would not confirm Tata's role in the fire because of student privacy concerns, but they did confirm that a fire occurred at the school on Dec. 10, 2002 in the girl's bathroom.

Ron Tata, the brother of the fugitive, was a basketball star at the high school when his sister allegedly started the fire, a classmate said.

"He punched the trophy case when he found out it was his sister," the former classmate said.

The Houston Chronicle reported that Jessica Tata admitted to the arson in 2003 and became an "adjudicated delinquent." Tata served three years of probation for the offense, the Houston Chronicle reported.

On Tata's application to open a day care, she made no mention of the arson which is an offense that likely would have prevented her from opening a day care center, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said.

"In February of 2010, Jess Tata applied for registration. At that time, we would run a criminal background check and we did and it would include juvenile history," Patrick Crimmins, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said. "There was nothing about the arson charge or any type of probation in the criminal background check"

Tata Omits Arson on Day Care Application

Following the fatal fire, the department ran two background checks on Tata and neither showed the juvenile offense. Crimmins said the department does not know why the arson did not show up in the data base.

The news that Tata may have been involved in arson is little comfort to the families of the young victims as they begin to bury the children.

The funeral for 3-year-old Shomari Dickerson will be held today.

When Tiffany Dickerson last saw her son, Shomari, he was wearing blue jeans, a blue and white flannel shirt and Jordan sneakers. When authorities told her that her son had died, he was burned beyond recognition.

"The whole ER, all the doctors, all the nurses, three chaplains, they closed the door and my heart just stopped. They said all the children have been claimed but one and we're 90 percent sure he's your son and we're so sorry he didn't make it," Dickerson said in an interview with ABCNews.com earlier this week. "I told everyone you might as well kill me too, I'm not going to make it."

Tata had left the seven children at her home day care to run an errand at Target. The children ranged in age from 15 months to 3 years. The fire started from oil burning in a pot on the stove, according to court documents.

Witnesses saw Tata arrive by car at the Houston home after the fire had started, according to court records. She could be heard screaming, witnesses told the Houston Fire Department.

Tata was rushed to the hospital following the fire, but was later released. Houston authorities never interviewed Tata before she fled the country. She was too ill to be interviewed at the scene of the fire or in the hospital and refused to talk when arson investigators arrived at her home the day after the fire.

"I don't understand how that could possibly happen. You see the damage to the house. You see the kids? Four passed away. How could you not just interview her and hear her side of the story at least. I'm at a loss for words, I don't understand," Dickerson said earlier this week.

Dickerson's daughter, Makayla, was also injured in the fire. Her condition was recently upgraded to good from critical.

"I don't understand why she would leave my babies alone knowing I trust her. It's so much to give your trust to someone with a baby you've carried for 9 months," Dickerson said.