Jessica Tata arrives in Houston

After three weeks of being on the run, Jessica Tata is now back in Harris County to face the charges against her.

March 22, 2011 3:19:37 AM PDT
After fleeing to another continent, the woman at the center of a deadly daycare fire is no longer a fugitive. Jessica Tata said nothing as U.S. Marshals escorted her into the Harris County Jail in downtown Houston earlier this morning. She's being kept in a cell by herself as she gets ready to face charges of manslaughter, reckless injury to a child and abandoning a child.

It's been a long trip for Tata. After being taken into custody in Nigeria Saturday, Tata landed in Atlanta early yesterday morning. She waived extradition to Texas and arrived by plane at Hooks Airport in northwest Harris County just before 1am.

Right now, she is in the Harris County jail awaiting her initial court appearance.

Tata's family says she turned herself into authorities in Nigeria. U.S. Marshals say Tata was captured by Nigerian authorities and international police on Saturday. From there, she was flown to Atlanta, where she spent several hours in a county jail.

Tata left Atlanta aboard a DPS private jet just before 10pm. Her flight landed at Hooks Airport near Tomball at about 12:35am. We were there when that jet landed.

She was there for just a few moments, escorted from the jet into an SUV and then the motorcade left, headed for the Harris County Jail.

Tata arrived at the jail around 1:30am. We got a closer look at her, walking into the jail with her head held low. She didn't say anything. She simply walked in and was booked.

We asked about all the excess personnel that escorted her.

"The safety of any high profile inmate is always a concern for us," said Christina Garza with the Harris County Sheriff's Office. "That's why she will be placed in a single cell and escorted at all times."

Tata went through a medical screening and psychiatric evaluation. We'll be at the courthouse, waiting for her first appearance and will bring you details and soon as anything happens.

Tata's arrival in the U.S.

Before dawn Monday, Tata was booked at the Fulton County jail, a stop-over on the way back to Houston. Her more than three-week flight from home to Nigeria, where she holds dual citizenship, ended Saturday, when her family says she voluntarily surrendered to authorities.

But on Monday, a statement from the U.S. Marshal's Office said, "Tata was captured Saturday in Port Harcourt, Nigeria by Interpol and U.S. Department of State security agents."

Capture and voluntary surrender are two opposing terms. When contacted by phone, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who called on the State Department to locate Tata and return her to the U.S. to face trial, said, "It was a collaborative effort. The U.S. Marshal's office was very involved. The only person to explain their situation is Ms. Tata."

By force or deliberate decision, the Houston publisher of a Nigerian online paper, says the Nigerian community is relieved.

"More important, the wheels of justice are much more swifter in the United States than Nigeria," said Chido Nwangwu of

We're told an investigator attempted to speak with Tata when she arrived in Atlanta, but we're told she had nothing to say. So far, we've not been able to talk to anyone at the U.S. Marshal's Office in Houston. But we're told they're going to Georgia to accompany Tata back to Houston.

Tata was listed as one of the U.S. Marshal's 15 most wanted fugitives. On Monday, the word "captured" was put over her photo on their website. The 22-year-old Tata faces a list of charges, four counts of manslaughter, six counts of reckless injury to a child, three counts of abandoning a child under 15 and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

The victims of the fire

With all the attention focused on Jessica Tata and bringing her back to the U.S., we can't forget about the young victims in this tragedy -- the four children killed. One of them was 20-month-old Kendyll Stradford. She started going to the daycare, just two days before the fire. Two of the other victims were 18-month-old Elias Castillo and 3-year-old Shomari Dickerson. The fourth victim was 19-month-old Elizabeth Kajoh. Family members told us she always had a smile on her face and gave hugs to everyone.