Jessica Tata. That name is on the lips of thousands of people right now, especially Houstonians and Nigerians. How can one person be so evil? Is Jessica Tata evil or did she make a tragic mistake that would claim the lives of innocents whose parents trusted her with their children’s lives? What could possibly posses a woman to do what she has done? Did the young woman run out of fear? There are a lot of whys in this tragic case. Unfortunately there are no answers and nothing has changed since the day of this horrific tragedy.
When I was asked to write this story it immediately took me back to another tragic event in Houston not so long ago when I lived in the area. LaVera Moore, the mother to 18-month-old twins MaKayla and Shakayla Carroll. LaVera left the girls while they were sleeping in the living-room, thinking they were safe and walked up to the corner store to buy cigarettes. In the 15 minutes she was gone her home caught on fire, she left the stove top burners on to heat the house. When she came back the house was engulfed in flames.All she could do was stand and watch in horror as her babies burned to death in her home. Lavera pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide. Deciding to walk to the store that night will haunt her for the rest of her life.
LaVera didn’t try to sidestep her responsibility or run from the crime she committed. She was negligent and she knew it.
MaKayla and Shakayla Carroll
When it comes to things like this do we send the perpetrator to prison and treat them as a common abuser? Or, do we call it a tragic accident and agree that the mother will pay a far greater debt by knowing that she did this her self and not punish her any further? These questions came up in this hearing and it was decided that she would be would be sentenced to 7 years deferred adjudication.
22-year-old Jessica operated a home day care center in Houston, Texas called Jackie’s Child Care. She had 7 pre-school kids in her care on this day.
Everyone trusted Jessica saying “She said she would teach sign language and taught Spanish, praise and worship. I liked that,” Another parent said she volunteered with the child care ministry at Braeswood Assembly of God during services and they felt like their child was in good hands.
“She came back praying over her food. She said Jessica taught her that. I didn’t,” Betty Kojah said.
Jessica offered a loving home 24 hours a day, 6 days a week and she took a proactive approach with the children. She constantly interacted with them and provided healthy meals at an affordable price. Everyone trusted her. If you would have met her you would have to. She was the ideal person a parent would want to hire to watch their children.
The trust all these parents had for Jessica Tata quickly turned into anger, confusion and deep pain on February 24, 2011.
A camera caught Jessica on tape at Target at 1:09 pm. and driving away at 1:24 pm. The first 911 call about a fire was made at 1:29 pm Houston Fire Department arrived at approximately 1:42. The fire was put out almost immediately.
Houston Fire and Arson Investigation Division sent investigators to the scene around 3:00 pm The Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal was also dispatched to the area. The investigators split up, some went to look for witnesses while others took on the task of figuring out what caused the fire that was contained in the kitchen. There was another team of investigators that had the duty of finding out the names of all these babies and who their parents were so they could be notified and sent to the correct hospital.
It was learned that there were 7 children in all that were in the home when the fire broke out. 4 of those children died at the hospital and 3 were in critical condition with severe trauma. HFD Command Staff members were trying to get Jessica Tata to confirm who each child was by viewing photos.
4 out of the 7 children lost their lives. Doctors weren’t able to save 3-year-old Shomari Dickerson, 20-month-old Elizabeth Kojah, 20-month-old Kendyll Stradford or 18-month-old Elias Castillo.
Shomari’s 2-year-old sister, MaKayla, is one of two children still hospitalized at Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston. Both are now in stable condition and are showing signs of improvement.
When asked for a statement Jessica said she left a pot of oil on the stove and went to the bathroom. She says when she came back out, there was thick smoke in the kitchen. She then claimed she was injured and needed medical attention so she was not able to speak with investigators any longer. She was transported by ambulance to the hospital and her brother told investigators that she would make a statement after treatment.
Later when she was able to speak she claimed she suddenly had amnesia and said ‘I can’t talk to you. I don’t even know who you are. I have amnesia.'” .
Neighbors told investigators they saw her pull up in the drive way and go into the home. It was just seconds later that she was heard screaming and smoke was coming from the front door of the home.
“Both witnesses stated they saw no adults or employees of the daycare inside the home other than (Tata). It appeared to them that (Tata) was the only adult at the daycare,” according to the arrest affidavit.
Jessica Tata’s neighbor Sandra Sawyer told officers that she tried to calm her (Jessica) by telling her everything would be ok because the fire department arrived so quickly therefore there would not be much damage to the home.
Jessica responded with, “Oh no, the fire was going for a long time.” Sandra also asked if another woman may have been in the home and she was told by Jessica, “Oh no, I was the only one there today.”
Neighbors John Chestnut and Geoffrey Deshano told investigators that they also saw Jessica pull up into the driveway moments before she came out screaming the house was on fire.
“I came to the side of the house in the backyard and smashed one of the windows open, and I could see a kid having his hands out,” Deshano said. “I tried to grab him, but the smoke got into my face and my mouth and I couldn’t breathe or see anything, and so I had to pull back.”
Chestnut added that he crawled into the house in an attempt to rescue the children.
“I can’t see anything, it’s hot and I’m coughing and can’t breathe and all I hear are kids left and right saying, ‘Help me, help me!’ ” he recalled.
DA Pat Lykos announcing no mishandling of case on her end
Investigator’s saw a bag in the front seat of Jessica’s van and it had groceries in it. At 5:00 pm they called the Chief ADA (Special Crimes) in an effort to get a search warrant for the van. Their intentions were to find a sales receipt so that they could identify the store and obtain store video. Investigators explained the facts about the case but the Chief ADA at Pat Lykos’ office stated there was no probable cause for a search warrant. The Chief Asst. District Attorney said maybe the caretaker left someone at the facility if she went to the store (it was already established that there were no others adults in the day care).
While investigators were conducting their investigation they found a bag with a drink and receipt in it, the time on the receipt read 1:18 pm, this was just minutes before the 911 call at 1:29 pm
Investigators contacted ADA again the next day at 2:16 pm believing they had enough probable cause from witnesses to believe that Jessica left the children alone and they wanted a warrant to arrest her. The ADA said she would discuss the investigators’ findings with another Chief ADA and would call them back later.
After their meeting, Chief ADA told investigators that no charges would be accepted and asked the investigators to interview Jessica and confirm if there were other employees present at the time of the fire.
That same day, February 25, 2011 the investigators and an HPD Homicide Detective tried to locate Jessica Tata so they could interview her.
When they found her she informed them that she hired an attorney and refused to speak in his absence.
Later they called Attorney Mike Monk, he said they did not hire him.”They came in to talk to me about possible criminal liability in the case,” said Monks, who had represented Tata’s family before.
At that time they chose to re-interview witnesses to clarify discrepancies. They also found out through the State of Texas, Jessica Tata was the only employee listed on their records.
Crimestoppers notified investigators and told them that it was possible that Jessica Tata may attempt to flee the country to her native country, Nigeria.
Once again, investigator’s called the Chief ADA of Special Crime and relayed the information they had been given but the ADA’s rationale was that Jessica was born in United States, and had been here a long time and did not consider the tip valid. ADA denied charges AGAIN.
This now the THIRD time the Houston ADA has refused to press charges on Jessica Tata. It came down to them not being able to get it through their thick heads that she left these children alone while she went out shopping.
ADA then requested the investigators to have interviews with all the parents to find out if there were employees that worked at the center. They were never able to interview any of them.
They also called Work Force and the State agency information (Family and Protective Services Child Care licensing) to verify that she was the only employee. Jessica’s daycare was a registered home day care not a commercial day care. No license was issued for a home day care, but there was a permit.
You can view Jessica’s child care record maintained by the Department of Family and Protective Services here http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/child_care/search_texas_child_care/ppFacilityDetails.asp?ptype=DC&fid=608389
This time ADA contacted investigators on Friday February 25th at 4:30 pm, the same day, and told them the media was beginning to make a lot of noise. ADA wanted to know if there was any new information. Investigator’s told them no and could they now file charges against Jessica Tata. ADA said no again.
On Saturday, February 26th investigator’s went back out in the field and asked neighbors if they saw and employees working for Jessica. Every single person responded with a resounding no! They were also able to get statements from 2 of the 7 parents this time.
On Sunday, February 27th between 10:30-11:00 am Investigators gave all of the new information to the Chief ADA of Special Crimes at Pat Lykos’ office. Again, they denied to press charges and requested investigators to interview every parent to verify if the parents had ever seen another employee at the daycare facility.
Houston Texas day care fire kills 4 children operator flees country
Investigators were able to contact the remaining families, all of whom denied ever seeing any other employee.
Investigators contacted the Chief for the 6th time on the same day between 1:00 – 2:00 pm and charges were FINALLY accepted and filed.
While preparing the probable cause affidavit, investigators received information from an ICE agent that Jessica had boarded a flight from Dallas to Atlanta, and Atlanta to Lagos, Nigeria, on Saturday, February 26, 2011. The day before charges were filed.
Fire Department Assistant Chief Michelle McLeod would not confirm how they knew she was in Nigeria but they do know she is there. U.S. Marshals Service spokesman Alfredo Perez is requesting that authorities in Nigeria arrest Jessica Tata.
Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos has officially gone on record saying, “I would urge the Tata family … that they have Ms. Tata return to Harris County and face justice,”
The Houston Fire Department believes that the DA’s office should have filed charges quicker but Lykos fired back saying that the investigators could have filed them their selves She also said;
“Suggestions that anyone in the district attorney’s office unreasonably delayed the filing of criminal charges against Miss Tata, or that she could have been arrested and held in custody during the pendency of this investigation — these allegations are outrageous,”
Below is the time-line of how the events occurred according to Pat Lykos, you will notice that they are not nearly as well noted as the investigator’s reports:
– Thursday, Feb. 24 — 1:39pm — A fire at Jackie’s Child Care was reported to 911
– Thursday, 5pm — Assistant District Attorney was telephoned regarding a proposed search warrant
– Friday, Feb. 25 — Investigator from the arson bureau called ADA about a conflict from witnesses as to whether the defendant was in the home at the time of the time and whether there was another adult in the home at the time of the fire. Investigator was advised more interviews were needed and to speak to Miss Tata.
– Sunday, Feb. 27 — Another phone call to ADA. He advised them to then present their evidence and file charges. ADA called intake and instructed them as to the proper charges.
– Sunday, 9pm — Fire department investigator arrived at intake and charges were filed. Probable cause was not found by the magistrate
– Monday, Feb. 28 — New probable cause affidavit was drafted and charges were filed and probable cause was found by the magistrate.
The Tata family spoke for the first time saying;
“Since the accident, my family has never been the same, and I don’t think we’ll be the same because it’s very horrible,” said Josie Tata, Jessica’s mother. “We feel very, very bad for what happened to the families,” said Ron Tata. “We love them and we pray for them every single day. We are opening up a benefit account.”
Tata family packing and leaving
On March 1st reporters showed up un-announced to Jessica’s family’s home and they were putting suit cases and duffel bags into their SUV. They refused to answer any questions as they sped away.
On March 2nd there were crews working inside Jessica’s home fixing the damage.
Hmmmmm….are you thinking the same thing I am? The whole family picked up and moved to Nigeria and now they are selling their homes. Mr. Tata, Jessica’s father already spends the majority of his time in his homeland. He comes to America just a few months out of the year and own a business here.
U.S. Marshal’s Office have reported that they are aggressively “hunting” Tata down as a fugitive, they are conducting interviews with family and friends and as soon as she is located she will be extradited back to Texas. They said it could take days or weeks depending on the countries policy.
Jessica Tata is now on the top 15 most wanted fugitives and U.S. Marshall’s has offered a reward of up to $25,000.
Jessica is being charged with 7 counts of reckless injury to child that resulted in serious bodily injury and 3 counts of abandoning a child. On March 3rd the grand jury added 4 counts of manslaughter and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution to her charges. She will have a $500,000 bond if/when she is picked up. Jessica fled the country and went to her native Nigeria. Jessica is an America citizen that spent some time in Nigeria and has family there.
Betty Ukera was the mother of one of the victims, 20-month-old Elizabeth Kajoh, when she heard that Jessica fled the country her response was “There is nothing that I can say or do to (Tata) that would resurrect my daughter. I have forgiven her and will leave it up to the god of justice.”
She said she didn’t really know what to say, what is there to say? Ms. Ukera, I’m sure is still just going through the motions and still in the beginning stages of grieving. Why would she even be asked what she thought about Jessica leaving the country so soon? Leave this mother alone to grieve!
3-year-old Shomari Dickerson’s grandmother does not feel the same way as Ms. Ukera does about forgiveness. “I’m sorry, no there’s no forgiveness for anyone who makes an income watching children and has an audacity to leave them for one second, said Tracy Storms.
Shomari Dickerson's mom burying her baby,This should have never happened!
Shomari’s mother Tiffany Dickerson was furious with the investigation and told reporters “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,” When asked about Jessica she said “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.
Tiffany was working at the hospital that 2 of the children arrived at but she had no idea they were from the same day care she used. She found out when her older daughter’s teacher called and asked why no one had showed up to pick the child up at school.
Tiffany then called the day care when “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.
She rode over to the hospital by ambulance to see her daughter, she said she was sedated so she couldn’t move but she squeezed her finger. She then went to find her son Shomari, she got to the door and there were 3 chaplains and a host of doctors and nurses.
They closed the door to the room and told her that all of the children had been claimed except this little boy so they were sure she was his mom. The doctor told her “I’m sorry, he didn’t make it and he’s unrecognizable from the burns”. “I told everyone you might as well kill me too. I’m not going to make it.” Tiffany said.
This cases is being looked at very closely by everyone due to the horror of it but also because of how it is being handled. It has also forced people to take a closer look at regulations regarding home day cares. Jessica Tata has no education past high school and perhaps that’s not really important, however, she also lacks any formal training in child care.
In my opinion that poses a problem, I would not want someone unqualified to take care of children. Would you?
Although she had no training she was able to legally register as a child care provider in Texas. Being registered allowed Jessica to legally care for up to 12 children a day and qualify for thousands of dollars in child care subsidies.
If you missed it where I listed the link above, you can view Jessica’s child care record maintained by the Department of Family and Protective Services here http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/child_care/search_texas_child_care/ppFacilityDetails.asp?ptype=DC&fid=608389
It appears that there are 2 groups specially made for Jessica Tata. They are Jessica Tata should be burned alive here https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jessica-Tata-should-be-burned-alive/113722225372176 and Against Jessica Tata here https://www.facebook.com/AgainstJessicaTata
I took a few moments to read some of the comments on there and someone, who I won’t name left their sentiments for Jessica and recommended her punishment
The commenter stated “I don’t think she should be burned alive I think she should be hung from a meat hook and then gutted alive. If she survives that then burn whats left of her.”
There were many other creative punishments as well from the members on those groups.
As a mother this seriously concerns me, in reality this could happen to anyone that puts their children in day care. There were no signs that this woman was going to be reckless and leave all these babies alone while she went shopping. Not only am I concerned but I am angry! Someone dropped the ball, whether it was Pat Lykos’ department (whom I already dislike for other reasons I won’t go into) or the Arson investigator’s it was one of them and because of them this woman was given a free pass to commit these heinous crimes.
Because of these agencies the families of these dead toddlers may never get justice. Not all countries agree to extradite criminals back to the countries they commit the crimes in. Many countries flat out refuse to get involved.
My question is how did this happen? How was she able to stand there the whole time all these fire fighters were putting out her fire watching and doing nothing, well, nothing but chatting it up with the neighbors while 7 toddlers were on fire? News stations did live coverage of this tragic fire, Jessica was seen on the street standing around. You can see her clearly in the pictures I have posted. Suddenly, when it came time to answer a few questions at the scene she decided she needed medical attention and wasn’t capable of speaking(!?). What medical attention could she possibly need when she was not in the home for more than a few seconds? She was sitting up on the gurney talking!!
After going to the hospital and being treated for her “medical emergency”, investigator’s again tried to speak with her. Oops now she has amnesia and doesn’t remember a single thing about the fire or all the children that she left to go up in flames along with the home. When investigator’s showed up at her home the next day she tells them to go away, she has an attorney and won’t speak without him.
That was the last time Jessica Tata was seen before she disappeared into the sunset. She would have never skipped the country if they would have suspended her passport, something else they failed to do. How did she get to Dallas to catch that flight? Where did all the money come from to help her get to Nigeria? We already know her father is a successful business owner, did the family aid her? Why did they all pack up and leave to? What’s REALLY going on here?
I’ll continue to update this story as I hear more about this case. Hopefully it won’t be long and Jessica will be returned to the U.S. I’m sorry to say but I don’t have a lot of faith in this case, I hope I’m wrong.
The Nigerian community in Houston is holding a vigil this Saturday the 12th at the Dream Banquet Hall to support the family and honor the children at 11225 Bissonnet Street, Houston, TX 77099. It is open to anyone who wants to attend.
Probable Cause Affidavit http://www.scribd.com/doc/50411560/jessica-tata-probable-cause
Federal Arrest Warrant http://www.scribd.com/doc/50420222/Jessica-Tata-Federal-Arrest-Warrant
This website is a good resource for tips on choosing child care and how to check them out. http://www.childcareaware.org/en/child_care_101/5steps.php/
Get to know the laws in your state for child care here http://www.childcareaware.org/en/parent_information/licensing//
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