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The West Houston Daycare Fire

A mother’s worst nightmare

February 24,2011 will always be a hard day for me and my family. A life changing day that I replay in my head over and over again going over that day reliving it as if it was a horror movie. As a mother from the moment I birthed my children I had the strongest feeling to protect and do everything in my power to keep them safe. In one day I failed them.

I was new to West Houston.I had started a job as a Patient care Tech at West Houston medical hospital. I worked 7am to 7 pm and normal daycares close at 6-6:30 pm so I needed childcare that stayed open longer.

I was shopping at Walmart when by chance Jessica Tata came up to me and handed me a card for her 24 hr in home childcare center. I thought it was amazing that it was a sign that things were coming together for us getting settled in. Jessica was pleasant and shared that she was big on church and worship going to prayer every Wed and Sunday. I toured her home and everything seemed in place. My daughter Kiyanna attended kindergarten, my son Shomari was 3 and my baby Makayla 2yrs old.

I went to the daycare as normal on Feb 24th. I remember my sweet boy telling me “ Mama don’t take a long time, and he wanted to go to Old McDonald’s when I picked him up. He always called McDonald’s that. I laughed and said if he was good we would go after work. I went to work no knowing it would be the last time I would kiss and hug my sweet boy.

I always said my son was an old soul. He opened all the doors for the ladies and always gave compliments to everyone he met. He was protective of his sisters and loved them so much. Kiyanna was always getting into things drawing on the walls or eating all the snacks and she always blamed shomari for it. Even at his young age he never argued he would take the blame for his sister. He would pat his sister Makayla’s back so she would fall asleep. He loved to brush my hair and he loved Spider-Man because Spider-Man helped people. He watched it everyday so much I went through at least 7 dvds of Spider-Man from the west and tear. He was my little super hero.

When I got to work that day I called and checked in with Jessica around 11 and she told me that the kids were doing great and they were about to have their morning snack. Around 1:30 we got a double code blue pediatrics over the intercom. I remember stopping at the nurses station and telling the unit secretary “ Oh wow I hope those kids are ok.” Because we were not a pediatric hospital it was odd we had children. Our manager was trying to get us to go the ER and see if they needed help with the children, but I still had a patient to help. Finally on the way to the elevator I got a call from my mother in law saying that my daughter Kiyanna never got picked up from school. I called Jessica TaTa and a man answered he said,”I’m so sorry if you had any children here there was a fire and they were all taken to different hospitals. I fell to the floor hysterical. My boss said ,” omg Tiffany that’s who is in the ER we have 2 kids from the daycare fire.” We went to the ER and My boss talked to the staff I could hear them saying It”s an employees child? Then I heard someone say is that the mother of the child that just died? I was in shock I could hear voices around me but it was muffled and my heart was beating out my chest. A nurse came and held up a charred pink outfit and asked if it belonged to my child. I couldn’t breathe I couldn’t speak. All I could do was nod my head. I remember thinking if that’s how Makaylas clothes look like how does she look.

They told me that I had just missed her and they put me in the ambulance to follow to the children’s hospital. In the ambulance I was crying hysterically saying what about my son? Where was he? My boss was with me telling me to pray and I did. I was hoping it was a bad dream how was this happening to me? I arrived at the hospital and saw Makayla on the table sedated. Her neck was burned and she was pink all over. I raised the paper chuck off her legs and she looked like a peeled lobster her skin was gone! I thought to myself how will they save her legs?? The doctors said they wanted to move her an hour and a half away to Shriners burn hospital for children in Galveston,TX. I told them I needed to find my son. Hours passed by then a doctor asked me his race and if he was circumcised. I wondered why are they asking me about his private parts? Was he that burned? They moved me to a family room and three preachers came and I knew it was bad news. I thought oh lord they are going to tell me that they can’t save Makayla’s legs. It was far worse. They told me they needed to move her immediately and I said,” No not until I get my son Shomari!” Then the Doctor said,”I’m so sorry but your son died in the fire and we have to help Makayla now. My heart literally felt a stabbing pain I didn’t believe them they had to be wrong. No way my sweet Spider-Man was dead. He’s waiting on me to take him to old McDonald’s .

In all the Chaos I still didn’t know how this fire transpired. I wanted to go to my son but they said I had to go with Makayla to sign for her treatment and surgery. Along the way Makayla crashed and flatlined. I felt helpless in front seat of the ambulance. Hearing the heart monitor it was devestsing I prayed God please don’t take her too! As soon as We arrived at the hospital the doctors came to the ambulance with paperwork to sign and they rushed her into surgery. It was until I was in the waiting room that I saw the news on the tv. I saw Jessica Tata alive and well in her bright clean white and red outfit uncharred and breathing and standing unharmed. I said to myself no way was she in that fire. I was furious. I asked the hospital to hold my son so I could see him so the next day I went to the hospital and when I arrived I learned that they had given him to the county coroners office and they had already performed an autopsy on him and he was considered unviewable. I never got to hold my baby again we had a closed casket the funeral home said he didn’t have any skin left to embalm him . I dropped my son off and never saw him again and I died that day too. Makayla was in a medical coma for a week. We stayed in the hospital for 4 months undergoing several skin graphs and surgeries. When she awoke she asked for her brother and it broke my heart. I had one child in the hospital fighting for her life and was attending my son’s funeral as well. We learned that Jessic Tata was able to drive to Dallas and catch a flight to Nigeria and was a wanted fugitive for 3 weeks before the US Marshall’s found her.She had no remorse no accountability. She killed 4 kids in that fire. We found out that she left a pot of grease on the stove and left the kids while she went shopping at target. She was in camera in the store leisurely walking around in no rush at all. In a 911 recording she’s screaming help the kids are dying! The neighbors were able to get one of the kids out through the window. Later they told me my son came to the window but went back to try and get his sister. I found out that a fireman found Makayla with her brother laying on top of her protecting her as he always did he was dead but he saved her life. When Makayla arrived at the hospital she died as well the doctor even called her death at 1:21 pm but the nurses kept giving her CPR and she came back. I’m so grateful for those nurses for not giving up on her.

We had years of trials and through it all Jessica kept her head down never showing remorse. To make matters worse a cell phone video came out that she made of all the kids that day. She never took pictures or videos of the kids any other day but she showed each child one by one all 7 of them as if saying goodbye to them. My son is seen on video shouting look it’s a spider just like Spider-Man. One of the babies it was their first day there. Also we found out that she had a sealed record of her trying to burn down her highschool as a teen. Yet Texas gave her a license to care for children. Jessica Tata received a verdict of murder and was sentenced to life in prison with possibility of parole in 30 years. When given a chance to speak at her trial she denied to. No remorse no answers of why she killed them. I tell my story not only to speak out for my children but also to raise awareness please be careful with your child. This woman had all her registration and licenses to run a daycare she went to church and one day she made a choice that cost the lives of 4 innocent children.

10 years later Makayla has 40%.of her body burned and has had over 35 surgeries to be able to walk correctly. She has depression, PTSD,anxiety,and survivors guilt. She gets teased and bullied at school for her burns.My oldest blames herself for being mean to him that day and taking his Spider-Man toy from him. We are still trying to cope. People say time heals all but in reality it just reminds you of the time that you have been robbed of. Shomari would have been 14 now. I miss him everyday. The holidays and birthdays are hard. No mother should have to bury their child. R.I.P Shomari forever my sweet baby.

Tiffany Richardson
Tiffany Richardson
Read next: Chad Alan Lee
Tiffany Richardson

Mother of 5 creative and amazing children. I love to write and Share my experiences though stories in hopes of bringing awareness, entertainment,and to connect with others that have similar backgrounds and inspire others.

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