Questions arise as federal authorities search for day care fire suspect


Leigh Frillici / 11 News

Posted on March 1, 2011 at 2:06 AM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 1 at 3:39 PM

HOUSTON -- Many people wondered Monday how a woman charged with reckless injury to a child was able to flee to Nigeria.

Jessica Tata, 22, was charged after a fire killed four children and injured three others at her day care last week, the Harris County district attorney’s office confirmed Sunday.

Tata allegedly left the children unattended as she went to a grocery store.

She left Houston around 1 p.m. Saturday and evidence shows she went to Nigeria, where she's lived before.

A warrant was issued for Tata’s arrest Sunday and bond was set at $500,000.

“The real question is: Why didn't the government act?  It's hard to criticize them because if they rushed to judgment they would be criticized for going too fast," 11 News Legal Analysis Gerald Treece said.

Local authorities said they have asked the U.S. Marshal’s Office to intervene to have Tata extradited back to Houston from Nigeria. Treece said Nigeria will most likely cooperate.

“The federal government will request her return,” he said. “This will happen; this is not a country that in the past has been unfriendly. We know it will happen.”

Treece said once Tata returns she will have some serious questions to answer.

“If you're fleeing, knowing you’re about to be charged, you have some explaining to do about why you left, rather than stay here and deal with the charges,” he said.

Treece said, unless Tata voluntarily returns to the U.S., it could take months to get her back. 

Betty Ukera, the mother of 20-month-old Elizabeth Kajoh, one of the children who died in the blaze, said she was still processing the news that Tata had fled the country.

"I don’t really know what to say about that," Ukera said. "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."

Jessica Tata graduated from Katy's Taylor High School and lived in west Houston where she operated a home day care center.