Parents Met Day Care Owner At Stores, Church

Published On: Feb 17 2012 02:39:17 PM CST
Updated On: Mar 08 2011 08:46:03 AM CST
Jessica Tata

Jessica Tata

HOUSTON -

All of the parents who left their children at a day care the day it caught fire, killing four children, said nearly the same thing about the day care owner, Jessica Tata.

"She said I can trust her. That's the last thing she said to me before I left her," mother Kyndell Stradford said.

"I trusted her to take care of my babies. They are my life, my children," mother Tiffany Dickerson said.

Tata, 22, is an international fugitive, accused of leaving seven children alone to go to a nearby Target for 13 minutes.

Tata was the day care provider at a home in the 2800 block of Crestpark at Waypark when a fire broke out Feb. 24 shortly before 1:30 p.m. The house served as a day care facility called Jackie's Child Care. While she was away, a pan of hot oil left burning on a stove sparked the fatal fire.

Four felony manslaughter charges were filed against Tata on Friday. The Harris County District Attorney's Office said she has been charged with 14 felonies, including seven counts of reckless injury to a child and three counts of child abandonment.

The new charges are likely to help extradition proceedings if Tata is found in Nigeria, where she is believed to have fled.

Three children, Elizabeth Kojah, of Cypress, and Kendyll Stradford, of Katy, both 20 months old; and Shomari Dickerson, 3, died the day of the fire. A fourth child, Elias Castillo, died two days later.

Each parent remembers how and where they met the woman who said she would take care of their babies.

"She came up to me at Walmart. I had two jobs," mother Keisha Brown said.

Brown was looking for a flexible and loving place for her 16-month-old son, Elias Castillo. She said Tata seemed to be the perfect fit because she offered a 24-hour day care service and was open on Saturdays.

"She said she would teach sign language and taught Spanish, praise and worship. I liked that," she said.

Tata also approached Tiffany Dickerson at a Walmart, and after visiting the day care, Dickerson said she was sure her children, 3-year-old Shomari and 2-year-old Mikala, were in good hands.

Elizabeth Kojah's parents met Tata at church. They said she volunteered with the child care ministry at Braeswood Assembly of God during services.

"One of those days, I went to pick up my daughter. She said, 'I have home care. I teach Christian values to kids,'" mother Betty Kojah said.

Kojah said she even noticed a positive change in her 20-month-old daughter after attending Tata's home day care for the first few days.

"She came back praying over her food. She said Jessica taught her that. I didn't," Kojah said.

Kendyll Stradford's mother found Tata through an ad, but she said she was sold when she met her.

"My mom found the phone number on the van. When we met her, she was very sweet and open to any questions," she said.

But what the parents thought was the perfect place for their little ones turned out to be their worst nightmare.

"I have a wish that it never happened," said Elizabeth Kojah's dad.

"He was all I was living for and kept me going. Everything I did was for him," Keisha Brown said.

"My poor son. I can't give him an open casket because he's so badly burned," Tiffany Dickerson said.

After hearing that Tata may have fled to Nigeria before she could be questioned or arrested, the trust the parents had for Tata turned into anger and an even deeper pain.

"Why is she lying? Why can't she just be remorseful?" Tiffany Dickerson asked.

"I just need to know what happened," Keisha Brown said.

After such a tragedy, the nonprofit organization Collaborative For Children wants to help other parents seeking child care.

CEO Carol Shattuck said it is essential for parents to spend an entire day visiting the day care before enrolling. She also said parents should not be afraid to ask about experience and proof of certifications and references.

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