Brother: Woman charged in Texas fire surrenders

DALLAS (AP) — A woman accused of fleeing the country after a fire at her Texas day care center killed four children has turned herself in to authorities in Nigeria, her brother said Saturday, though U.S. officials said they still don’t have her in custody.

Ron Tata told The Associated Press that relatives in Nigeria informed him early Saturday that his sister, Jessica Tata, went to the U.S. consulate.

“She just felt really, really, really bad about the whole situation, especially for the families. It would be the right thing to do,” he said during a phone interview from his home in Houston.

U.S. Marshals Service spokesman Jeff Carter said the 22-year-old woman wasn’t in the agency’s custody, and Harris County district attorney spokeswoman Donna Haskins said she had received no information that Jessica Tata was being held.

Peter Claussen, spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, said late Saturday that he had no information about Tata’s possible surrender.

Authorities believe Tata fled to Nigeria two days after a fire erupted at her home day care center in Houston on Feb. 24. Four children were killed and three were injured.

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.

Fire investigators have said they received a tip that Tata had relatives in Nigeria and might flee.

Family members of the young victims told the Houston Chronicle that they were relieved to hear she had turned herself in.

“I cried, but the tears were of joy,” said Keisha Brown, whose 16-month old son Elias died in the fire. “All I wanted was justice and closure.”

Elias’ grandmother Jodie Brown said she was excited that Tata had “taken the responsibility she needed to take.”

The U.S. Marshals Service, which was leading the search for 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 U.S.

A message left for an Interpol official in Paris wasn’t immediately returned.

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria.

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