Families of victims killed in fire at Jessica Tata's day care still feel pain one year later

February 25, 2012 4:52:07 AM PST
One year ago Friday, four toddlers died when their day care caught on fire. The pain is still very fresh for their parents because of a lack of justice.

It's an anniversary of a tragedy no one can forget and everyone wishes never happened.

Jessica Tata still sits in a solitary cell in the Harris County Jail charged with an extensive list of crimes including murder. The families of those children she's accused of killing anxiously await her trial.

For Keshia Brown, her son Elias Castillo will forever be just 16 months old.

"If I cried, he would make me smile," said Keshia Brown.

Elias was among the four children who died last February at a fire at this west Houston daycare.

"I always call him my angel," Keshia Brown said.

Three other children were also injured. The facility was operated out of this home by then 23-year-old Jessica Tata. Police say she left a pan containing oil on the stove and the burner on while she went shopping. Though she initially told neighbors she was in the bathroom when the fire started.

Two days after the blaze, she fled, spending the next three and a half weeks on the run.

Eyewitness News chased her to Nigeria where she says she surrendered to authorities before they found her.

Just last month, a Harris County judge granted a continuance, giving Tata's defense attorney more time to prepare for trial. A pre-trial hearing is now set for March 23. No trial date has yet been set.

"It's draining, it's draining emotionally," said Jodie Brown, Elias' grandmother.

Trial will come none too soon for the families who lost loved ones so young.

"She hasn't even said that she's sorry and it's been a year. I mean at least, at least say you're sorry. Tell your lawyer to say it if she's too much of a coward to say it to us," Keshia Brown said.

When Eyewitness News spoke to Tata in jail last April, she was remorseful. She told us she grieved for the little lives lost.

In death, Elias saved three other lives, donating his heart, liver and kidney.

"Because there would be a piece of him still here. We could still hug a baby that had a piece of him in him," Jodie Brown said.

His grandmother finds some solace in that.

"He's a hero to me. He's a hero," said Jodie Brown

But every hero, she says, has a villain, someone who must pay for the crimes committed.

Jessica Tata remains in the Harris County Jail, held on no bond. Her attorney did not return our calls for comment.

Because of that deadly fire, the Houston City Council created a new ordinance aimed at making home day cares safer. It calls for yearly inspections of home day cares to make sure there are no fire code violations. Home day care providers must now register with the city and pay a $100 fee to cover the inspection cost.