A woman accused of fleeing the United States after a fire at her Houston day care center killed four children has turned herself in to authorities in Nigeria and is en route back to the United States.
Jessica Tata, 22, departed Lagos, Nigeria, at 4:30 p.m. CDT Sunday, and officials hoped she would be back in Houston within 24 hours, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston said in a statement issued Sunday.
Authorities believe Tata fled to Nigeria two days after a Feb. 24 fire at her home day care center in Houston killed four children and hurt three others. Tata has been charged with manslaughter, injury to a child and child abandonment amid accusations that she left the youngsters alone at her home day care center while she shopped at a nearby store. Authorities believe the fire was ignited by a stove top burner that had been left on.
"I thank Ms. Tata and her family for coming together and helping her to make the right decision," Lee, D-Texas, said. "I am glad she decided to make the right decision, which is to return to this country of which she is a citizen in order to face the charges against her."
The U.S. Marshals Service declined to provide details of the fugitive's return itinerary. "It is the policy of the U.S. Marshals to not comment on prisoner movements until they are complete," said spokesman Jeff Carter.
Donna Hawkins, spokeswoman for the Harris County District Attorney's Office, declined to comment on Tata's return.
News of Tata's return was bittersweet to Emmanuel Kajoh of the Houston suburb of Cypress, whose daughter Elizabeth died in the fire.
"I buried my daughter and I want to move on," he said. Tata's return "will not bring back my daughter. I'm moving on, trying to heal the wound, and that's why I don't really want to talk much about it.
Ron Tata told The Associated Press that relatives in Nigeria informed him early Saturday that his sister went to the U.S. consulate because "it would be the right thing to do."
Fire investigators have said they received a tip that she had relatives in Nigeria and might flee.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which was leading the search for Jessica Tata, had put the woman on its list of the 15 most wanted fugitives and offered a reward of up to $25,000. Interpol, the international police agency, alerted its member countries, including Nigeria, that she was being sought by the United States.