Family: Jessica Tata turns herself in

March 20, 2011 9:40:40 AM PDT
Jessica Tata, a woman wanted after a day care center fire killed four small children, has surrendered. It's a day many of the victims' families had hoped for -- a chance to get justice. We first told you about the major development in the case here on abc13.com.

Tata's brother told Eyewitness News she turned herself in at a consulate in Nigeria. Investigators believed she fled to that country shortly after the fire last month.

Tata is accused of leaving those kids home alone when that fire broke out. While details of her surrender are being kept under wraps, we know that her family may have convinced her to come out of hiding and turn herself in.

After more than 20 days on the run, Tata, one of the U.S. Marshal's 15 most wanted fugitives, is said to be traveling with Nigerian officials to the capital of Lagos, where U.S. authorities will meet her.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has been following the search for her and says Tata's surrender was voluntary.

"The U.S. embassy in Nigeria is well informed, is in control and in cooperation with the Nigerian government and in cooperation with law enforcement authorities here in the United States," she said.

Tata reportedly fled to Nigeria two days after the deadly home day care fire. While Tata could be back in Harris County in as little as a couple days to face a host of criminal charges, we know nothing about where in Nigeria she's been staying, or what or whom compelled her to turn herself in

Jackson Lee believes her family may have played a role in her surrender.

"She is safe," said Jackson Lee. "I think her family wants her to come home. They want her to be safe. She has certainly been in Nigeria and she certainly has been in a safe place."

Tata is facing manslaughter charges as well as ten other charges, including reckless injury of a child and child abandonment.

The timeline

It's been a difficult month for the families of the four children who died from the fire. It broke out Thursday, February 24 in west Houston. Tata allegedly boarded a flight to Nigeria on Saturday. Charges were filed the following day.

Eyewitness News first learned Monday morning that Tata may have left the country. It wasn't until that afternoon that the fire department confirmed she was gone.

Relief for victims' families

The families of the victims in the fire are feeling a sense of relief now that Tata has surrendered.

The last month of Kelly Murray's life has felt anything but complete. His daughter, Kendyl, is one of the four children who died in last month's home daycare fire. It was only her second day in the care of Tata.

"I won't be totally happy until justice is served," Murray told us.

Murray was at a funeral home selecting a headstone for Kendyl's grave when he got word that Tata surrendered to authorities in Nigeria; an answered prayer for Kendyl's mother.

"I trusted in God that she would eventually realize what she did and own up to it," said Kenya Stradford, Kendyl's mother.

Tata's brother said remorse drove his sister to turn herself in. KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy believes there's much more to the story.

"I think the real issue is the fact that her family has been pressured, threatened, with criminal prosecution unless she came back," he said.

Whatever the reason, the families are confident that justice will finally be served.

"I'm just glad she finally realized she needed to do something right out of this whole situation," said Stradford.

Families say they have not been contacted by government officials. They're now desperately waiting for that confirmation.

Tata is facing several charges. The district attorney's office says Tata is facing four counts of manslaughter as well as multiple charges of injury to a child. She's also facing three counts of abandoning a child. She could be back in Harris County in a couple of days if she doesn't fight extradition.

Stay with us for the latest on the day care fire and the investigation. We'll bring you the latest on television and here on abc13.com.


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