Children Killed In Day Care Fire Identified

4 Children Injured

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Jessica Tata

HOUSTON - The parents of one of the three children killed in a day care fire said Friday that they do not blame the woman who ran the center.

A house in the 2800 block of Crestpark at Waypark caught fire shortly after 1:40 p.m. Thursday. The house also serves as a day care facility called Jackie's Child Care, officials said.

Units arriving at the scene found two injured children outside the home and five more trapped inside. Firefighters rescued those inside and took all seven children to several Houston hospitals. All of the victims ranged in age from 18 months to 3 years old.

Three of the children, including Elizabeth Kojah, of Cypress; Kendall Stradford, of Katy, both 20 months old; and Shomari Dickerson, 3, died after being taken to a hospital.

Elizabeth's parents said her Nigerian nickname was "Love," and she was daddy's little girl.

"She loved me; she loved her daddy a lot," said Emmanuel Kojah. "As soon as I'd open the garage door, she'd be there screaming 'daddy, dada, dada, dada.'"

The parents said their pain is unbearable.

"They brought us her clothes," mother Betty Ukere said. "I asked them, 'Is she alive?' Just hoping for a yes, but I knew."

The parents said they are not angry at the day care owner, Jessica Tata, who neighbors have said was not at the home at the time of the fire. Houston Fire Department investigators said they have not been able to speak with her yet.

Several neighbors said they saw Tata pull up to the home with grocery bags, and then realize the house was on fire. Witnesses said she yelled for help and neighbors tried to rescue the children, but the smoke was too heavy.

Of the surviving children, two were taken to Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston. They were listed in critical but stable condition with burns on less than one-third of their bodies. One child was in critical condition and one was in good condition at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston.

Some family members and friends went to the home on Friday and said that doctors have told them to brace for another death.

Fire Department sources told KPRC Local 2 that the blaze appeared to have started in the kitchen. Investigators said the house sustained little fire damage.

Jackie's Child Care has been inspected twice over the past three years by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services.

Two violations were found last year -- the facility was missing required carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers. Both violations were corrected the next day, according to records.

The facility was licensed for a capacity of 12 children, from infants to prekindergarten.

The Houston Police Department Homicide Division has joined the HFD arson squad in the investigation. Police said they need to be involved in case charges are filed in the future.

Investigators said there is no suspicion of wrongdoing.

Experts Offer Parents Tips For Choosing Day Care

Experts said there is help available for parents looking for child care solutions for their young children.

The Collaborative for Children is a nonprofit that focuses on early care and education for children from birth to age 6.

The group said parents should look at the centers or homes, ask questions about training, listen to the classroom for interaction, count the number of children versus caregivers and be informed by checking licensing information.

"I don't think you can be too careful. This is your child," said Carol Shattuck, president of Collaborative for Children.

She said regulation needs to be tougher.

"In a child care center, you have to have a GED or a high school education and eight hours of training to be in charge of a classroom of children. To have someone paint my nails, they have to have 600 hours of training. For someone to cut my hair, they have to have 1,200 hours of training. Yet, we only require eight for adults to take care of our precious children."

The organization has a child care checklist to help parents chose a facility.

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