A Houston prosecutor denied today that it botched the investigation into a day care fire that killed four toddlers, but conceded the woman charged in the fire had left the country and urged her return to the U.S. and face charges.
"If you cared at all about those children, then return," Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos said in an appeal to Jessica Tata.
Tata, who ran Jackie's Child Care in Houston, was charged Monday with one count of reckless bodily injury to a child and bond was set at $500,000. But prosecutors realized that Tata, who is 22, had already fled to Nigeria.
Lykos said at a news conference today that nine additional charges will be filed against Tata including six more charges of reckless bodily injury to a child and three charges of child endangerment.
The DA also issued an alert that Tata's brother, Ron Tata, was attempting to create a business called "Houston Benefit of Daycare Victims" to solicit money.
"I would urge the Tata family instead of... raising money and who knows where that money is going to and how it's going to be accounted for, that they have Miss Tata return to Harris County and face justice," Lykos said.
The prosecutor called Ron Tata's fund raising plans "reprehensible."
Lykos news conference was held amid criticism that investigators had not acted more quickly after last Thursday's fire and allowed Tata to leave the country.
Tiffany Dickerson is furious that prosecutors never questioned or arrested Tata who ran the day care where seven children were left alone and four-- including Dickerson's young son -- died in a fire that started on the woman's stove.
"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.
Lykos defended her team's investigation into the case. It took four days to charge Tata and prosecutors never questioned the Texas born woman.
"Suggestions that anyone in the District Attorney's office had reasonably delayed the filing of criminal charges against Ms. Tata or that she could have been arrested or held in custody during the pendency of this investigation. These allegations are outrageous," Lykos said.
Operator of Day Care Fled to Nigeria After Fatal Fire
The Harris County District Attorney's office told ABC News affiliate KTRK that they did not know Tata was a flight risk and were unaware that she had left the country until Monday.
The Houston Fire Department refutes that claim. Houston Fire Marshal Richard Galvan told the Houston Chronicle that an arson investigator told prosecutors on Friday they had learned Tata may be preparing to leave the country.
The U.S. Marshals have been enlisted by the Houston Fire Department and Harris County District Attorneys to assist in the search for Tata, Deputy U.S. Marshal Alfredo Perez said. Tata is now considered a fugitive.
"We're trying to locate her," Perez said. "It depends on what country and what state she's in whether we can or can't extradite her."
Perez said that the Marshals have not verified that Tata is in Nigeria.
Dickerson, whose 2-year-old daughter Makayla is fighting for her life at Shriner's Hospital for Children in Galveston, Texas, is enraged with Tata.
"She's not woman enough to come and be accountable for her actions. She's not woman enough to come and take what her punishment is. She has not a bit of remorse for the children," Dickerson said.
An affidavit released today showed that Tata was shopping at Target at the time the fire started.
"If she had to go to the store, why wouldn't she take them. She had a big van for all the kids to go," Dickerson said. "It's so much to give your trust to someone with a baby you've carried for nine months."
The 22-year-old mom was working as a technician at West Houston Medical Center last Thursday when two of the seven children injured in the fire came to the hospital.
Dickerson didn't know that the children were from the day care she used until she got a phone call from her 5-year-old daughter's school asking why no one had picked up the little girl after class.
Dickerson called "Jackie's Child Care," the day care run out of Tata's home.
"A man's voice answered and said, 'I'm so sorry. There's been a fire and all the children have been rushed to the hospital.' I just dropped to the floor," she said.
Dickerson rode by ambulance to another hospital to find her daughter, Makayla.
"She was sedated, but she squeezed my finger," Dickerson said.
She still didn't know where 3-year-old Shomari was. When she'd taken him to the day care that morning, he was wearing blue jeans, a blue and white flannel shirt and Jordan sneakers. Now, her little boy was unrecognizable from the burns.
"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. "I told everyone you might as well kill me too. I'm not going to make it."
Tata Left Seven Children Alone Day of Fatal Fire
Tata had left the seven children 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 to 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.
Dickerson said that she learned about the day care when Tata was passing out business cards at a Wal-Mart. She said that the day care was certified and that it always appeared clean and very organized.
Makayla, Dickerson's daughter, has a long recovery ahead of her. The little girl said "Mama" for the first time after the fire on Monday, Dickerson said.
"This is going to take the fun out of her childhood. She should be out playing, enjoying life," she said.
Along with Makayla, one other child remains in critical, but stable, condition at Shriner's Hospital in Galveston, KTRK reported.