Woman Charged in Fatal Houston Day Care Fire Turns Herself In

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

The Houston woman charged in a day care fire that killed four toddlers turned herself in today to U.S. officials in Nigeria, according to her brother.

Ron Tata told ABC station KTRK-TV in Houston this morning that his sister, 22-year-old Jessica Tata, surrendered today in Nigeria, where she fled following the Feb. 24 fire.

U.S. government officials have not confirmed that the woman is in custody, but Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee also said embassy officials told her Jessica Tata had turned herself in.

Tata, who ran Jackie's Child Care out of her home in Houston, was charged in February with one count of reckless bodily injury to a child, and bond was set at $500,000. But prosecutors realized that Tata had already fled the country.

She now faces four manslaughter charges as well as 10 other charges, including reckless injury of a child and child abandonment.

Toddlers Elizabeth Kajoh, Kendyll Stradford, Elias Castillo and Shomari Dickerson died in the fire at the west Houston home day care.

Prosecutors allege that Tata left the children alone in the house while she went shopping, and while she was gone, the fire broke out on a stove-top burner that had been left on. She told investigators she was in the bathroom when the fire started.

Extradition agreements between the United States and Nigeria state that in cases of manslaughter, individuals can be sent back to their home country, which is expected to quicken her return to face charges.

Tiffany Amber Dickerson, the mother of 3-year-old Shomari Dickerson and Makayla Dickerson, who is still recovering from severe burns, said she was glad Tata turned herself in.

"I'm very happy that her guilt finally came over her," Dickerson said, adding that she cannot express what she's like to say to Tata if she were able to speak with her today.

Operator of Day Care Fled to Nigeria After Fatal Fire

The fact that Tata was able to leave the country while prosecutors and fire officials were investigating the fatal fire outraged many in the Houston area.

The Harris County District Attorney's office told ABC News affiliate KTRK they did not know Tata was a flight risk and were unaware that she had left the country until the Monday following the fire.

But Houston Fire Marshal Richard Galvan told the Houston Chronicle that an arson investigator warned prosecutors they had learned Tata might be preparing to leave the country.

The U.S. Marshals enlisted the Houston Fire Department and Harris County District Attorneys to assist in the search for Tata, Deputy U.S. Marshal Alfredo Perez said.

According to an affidavit in the case, Tata was allegedly 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 the day of the fire, when two of the seven injured children were brought in.

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

The children that Tata left alone 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. 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 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.

"This is going to take the fun out of her childhood. She should be out playing, enjoying life," she said.

Dickerson told ABC News today that she has spoken with the other victims' parents and that her daughter has another surgery scheduled soon.

"She's real strong, and we're gonna get through it regardless," she said.