HOUSTON Jessica Tata, the woman accused of fleeing the country after a fire at her west Houston day care center killed four children, was expected to be back in the United States from Nigeria onMonday, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston) confirmed.
Tata, 22, departed Lagos, Nigeria, at 4:30 p.m. CDT Sunday and was expected to be in Houston within 24 hours, the congresswoman said in a statement issued Sunday.
Authorities believe Tata fled to Nigeria two days after a Feb. 24 fire at her home day care center in Houston killed four children and hurt three others. Tata has been charged with manslaughter, injury to a child and child abandonment amid accusations that she left the youngsters alone at her home day care center while she shopped at a nearby store. Authorities believe the fire was ignited by a stove top burner that had been left on.
I am glad she decided to make the right decision, which is to return to this country of which she is a citizen in order to face the charges against her, Lee, D-Texas, said.
The U.S. Marshals Service declined to provide details of Tata s itinerary, and the Harris County District Attorney s Office declined to comment.
Fire investigators have said they received a tip after the fire that Tata had relatives in Nigeria and might flee.
Her brother, Ron Tata of Houston, told The Associated Press on Saturday that relatives in Nigeria had informed him early that day that his sister had turned herself in to the U.S. Consulate.
She just felt really, really, really bad about the whole situation, especially for the families. It would be the right thing to do, he said.
A person answering a telephone call to Ron Tata on Sunday hung up.
Some family members of the young victims said that they were relieved to hear she had turned herself in.
I cried, but they tears were of joy, said Keisha Brown, whose 16-month old son Elias died in the fire. All I wanted was justice and closure.
Elias grandmother Jodie Brown said she was excited that Tata had taken the responsibility she needed to take.
But news of Tata s return was bittersweet to Emmanuel Kajoh of the Houston suburb of Cypress, whose daughter Elizabeth died in the fire. I buried my daughter and I want to move on, he said. Tata s return will not bring back my daughter. I m moving on, trying to heal the wound, and that s why I don t really want to talk much about it.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which was leading the search for Tata, had put her on its list of the 15 most wanted fugitives and offered a reward of up to $25,000. The Marshals Service offered no indication Sunday of whether the reward had been claimed or would be paid. Interpol, the international police agency, also had alerted its member countries, including Nigeria, that she was being sought by the United States.