EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article included information from the Division of Family and Children Services that misidentified the deceased child.
Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services had prior contact with the mother of a 4-year-old girl found dead in a fire at an East Point apartment last week, the agency confirmed Tuesday.
The fire broke out the day before Thanksgiving at an apartment complex along Washington Road. The blaze spread quickly, fire officials said, and left the building gutted and in ruins. Once it was extinguished, fire crews found the deceased child in a bedroom of the upstairs apartment.
She was identified by DFCS as Arielle Jackson, but the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office said it could take at least a month before it can officially confirm the child’s identity.
The girl’s twin sister also was injured, sustaining burns to her hands, arms and portions of her face, according to officials. She is staying with her maternal grandmother.
The girls’ mother, 27-year-old Nicole Ashley Jackson, was first thought to have been a victim of the fire, but after an extensive search of what was left of the home and after discovering that possible accelerants were used, a lookout bulletin for Jackson was sent to area law enforcement. She was located Friday along Fulton Industrial Boulevard and arrested, authorities said.
DFCS “dropped the ball on this one,” the children’s grandmother, Sylear Jackson, wrote in a GoFundMe campaign. “Everything leading up to this moment could’ve been avoided had (DFCS) done their job and followed proper protocol.”
“I contacted (DFCS) on numerous occasions regarding this matter, and they failed my granddaughters,” she later added.
The state agency did not directly address that allegation. It did, however, confirm that a case involving Jackson over possible concerns of neglect had been opened in September 2019 in Rabun County and another in Greene County after the family moved there.
The allegations included inadequate food, clothing and shelter, according to a summary report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The agency did not release any other information about the case.
Another case was opened in April of this year after the twins were allegedly present during an incident of domestic violence between the mother and her boyfriend, who was arrested for battery, the summary states.
The department said it “had no reason to believe Arielle was in imminent danger when that case was closed in June,” a spokesperson for the department said in a statement. “This loss is heartbreaking, and our deepest condolences go out to Arielle’s loved ones.”
The agency said it is working closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety and well-being of Nicole Jackson’s other children.
Nicole Jackson faces multiple charges, including malice murder, felony murder, criminal attempt to commit murder and two counts of first-degree cruelty to children. The prosecution anticipates filing additional charges as the investigation moves forward.
Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office
Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office
Sylear Jackson wrote on the GoFundMe page that her daughter had been struggling with mental illness for many months and that she “tried to avoid this horrific tragedy, yet here we are.”
According to the DFCS case summary, Sylear Jackson had the twins in her care at one point, but her daughter assaulted her and took the children away. It was not clear when that incident took place.
She said Nicole Jackson favored one twin over the other, and the one she favored was the one who survived.
As the fire was burning that day, a neighbor, Ricardo Tolbert, rushed in to help. Since the door was locked, he busted a window and went inside, he told Channel 2 Action News.
”I noticed the baby’s arms on the couch, so I reached in and grabbed her and pulled her out,” he said about the surviving twin.
He then ran back in but was met with heavy flames billowing out of the bedroom. The fire had escalated into an inferno, with flames rolling out of the door, he said.
With those images still replaying in his mind, Tolbert said he wished he would have done more.
“I should have kept trying, kept trying to get that (other) baby out,” he told the news station.
Now, Sylear Jackson is the only person left to care for her surviving granddaughter and plan the funeral for Arielle Jackson.
It’s “a grandmother’s worst nightmare,” she wrote on GoFundMe. “This is (an) extremely devastating time for myself and our family. ... This is not an easy task. I’m going to need therapy for my granddaughter and myself. Please any and every little bit helps. And please continue to pray for my family. We need it!”
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