ABC13 first in Nigeria for Tata search?

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and members of the Nigerian community in Houston united to discuss the case of Jessica Tata, the day care operator wanted in a fire that killed four children and injured three others.

March 14, 2011 8:36:09 AM PDT
Local Nigerians joined Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in pleading for the surrender of a wanted day care operator.

We're hearing conflicting reports about whether we're the only one in Nigeria searching for Jessica Tata, the day care operator who fled the Houston area after a fire killed four children.

Jackson Lee says she's working closely with the U.S. Marshals and there are people on the ground in Nigeria searching for Tata. But that's not what we're being told by our own Art Rascon. He's in the River State area, where Tata's believed to be.

On Sunday, he met with the foreign minister in Abuja. He's the person who grants passports and according to him, there are no authorities from the U.S. Marshal's Office in Nigeria. For now, he says, it's being worked through diplomatic channels and a lot of phone calls.

Also, the embassy told us two days ago that the Eyewitness News crew was the first to arrive concerning Tata.

If there was an "active" search then the Rivers State area, we would know about it and so would Port Harcourt authorities. So far, neither of the offices had ever heard of Tata and we spoke with them Sunday morning.

But Jackson Lee announced she spoke with the U.S. embassy in Nigeria and they said they plan to make the Tata case a number one priority. Jackson Lee said she spoke with a Nigerian ambassador about the Nigerian government adding extra law enforcement to find Tata.

"This ambassador has indicated that this will be a number one issue for the U.S. embassy in Nigeria," Jackson Lee said. "This is a very important step forward. There was some representation that there were no authorities on the ground. Well, we do have law enforcement authorities who are allowed to be in Nigeria, and they are actively involved in investigating this case."

Authorities say Tata had gone shopping and left the seven children home alone when the late-February fire erupted and killed four of the children.

Tata wasn't immediately charged after the fire because investigators said they needed more proof that she had left the kids at home alone. But by the time they did, she was already overseas in Nigeria, where her parents are from.

Tata faces 10 charges, including four counts of manslaughter.

Many of the Nigerian faith-based community were by Jackson Lee's side and they offered a plea to the Tata family.

"For the sake of the Houston community, for the sake of the Nigerian community, we urge you to come back," pastor Rebekah Ayodele said.

Jackson Lee said this is about closure, about justice. She wants the family of Tata to utilize the faith-based community to help bring her back to a safe surrender.