HOUSTON – The day care blaze that killed four children and injured three others wasn’t Jessica Tata’s first experience with fire, according to former classmates at Katy Taylor High School.
In the days since the deadly fire, there has been a growing chorus of phone calls and e-mails to 11 News saying Tata was accused of setting two fires at the school back in 2002.
"We sat outside for two to three hours," said one classmate, who did not want his identity revealed. "Sure enough, we had found out that Jessica had caught the freshmen girls bathroom on fire and the main campus bathroom on fire."
"We received the word that Jessica had set a fire in not one, but two locations," said another classmate, who also did want her name revealed. "She (Jessica) had set fire to the east wing and west wing by hanging toilet paper from the ceiling."
Authorities would not confirm the Taylor High School fire on the record, citing the ongoing investigation into the day care fire.
Yet, more than a dozen people told the same story with the same details. None wanted to be identified publicly, and some said they were afraid of angering Tata’s family.
But because of the day care fire, former classmates felt it was important to speak out about Tata. And they did not have a flattering impression of her.
"She was kind of the crazy, loud girl who would run through the halls and sometimes bark at random people," said a former classmate.
It’s a stark contrast to the good things people had to say about Tata in the hours and days immediately following the day care fire.
"Very compassionate, loves children," Pastor Vera Jones Tompkins told 11 News on the day of the fire. "She was at a local church and that’s all she did was keep children."
Tata is now facing 10 criminal charges in the case.
Authorities allege she wasn’t in the day care when the fire started, because she'd left the children to go shopping.
By Monday, authorities said Tata had fled the country and was thought to be in Nigeria.
Tata’s family would not answer any questions about Jessica when they met with the press.
But the images from the fire were disturbing enough to prompt a lot of other people to call 11 News with another story about another fire a long time ago.