HOUSTON - A day care owner has been charged with murder in connection with the deaths of four children during a fire that broke out while, prosecutors say, she was out shopping.
Shomari Dickerson, 3, Elizabeth Kojah, 20 months, Kendyll Stradford, 20 months, and Elias Castillo died from the fire at a home in the 2800 block of Crestpark at Waypark shortly before 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 24. The house served as a day care facility called Jackie's Child Care.
Three other children were injured in the fire.
Arson investigators said the fire started in the kitchen after someone left a pot of oil sitting on a hot burner.
The day care owner, Jessica Tata, 22, was supposed to be watching the children, but Houston Fire Department officials said she was grocery shopping at a Target store nearby when the fire started. Detectives said security video showed her arriving at the store at 1:09 p.m. and driving away from the store at 1:24 p.m. The children had been left home alone, investigators said
Witnesses said Tata returned as smoke began billowing out of the home day care. The first call to 911 was made by someone other than Tata at 1:29 p.m., investigators said.
Tata's attorney, Mike DeGeurin, said she went into the burning house three times to save the children, and lost her own goddaughter in the fire.
In addition to the murder charges, Tata faces three counts of abandoning a child and six counts of reckless injury to a child. She also faces a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. She is being held in the Harris County Jail without bond.
Tata returned to Houston last week after spending weeks on the run in Nigeria, prosecutors said. DeGeurin said that charges had not been filed against Tata when she flew to Nigeria, so she did not flee.
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