Cops say mother confessed to starting blaze to hide child’s death

Every day that passes, Gabrielle Jackson’s family says she becomes more and more like her twin sister.

The once shy 4-year-old who could barely speak in full sentences is now expressing herself like her sibling, Arielle.

“My granddaughter Arielle resides in my granddaughter Gabrielle today,” Sylear Jackson said Friday from outside the girls’ school, Dozier’s Early Learning Center, during a balloon release to remember Arielle, who died in a fire last month. “That baby’s spirit went into Gabrielle that day.”

Sylear’s world stopped Nov. 23 when she received a call from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta notifying her that her granddaughter had been in an accident. Sylear said staff told her Arielle was in the hospital, so she assumed Gabrielle was at home.

After waiting nearly an hour to see her granddaughter, Sylear said she burst through the door of the inpatient room hoping for the best. But it was Gabrielle sitting on that hospital bed, not Arielle.

“The first thing the nurse said was, ‘Arielle, is that your grandmother?’ And she looked. I said, ‘Gabrielle, what’s your name?’ And she looked at me and she turned her head sideways like my granddaughter Arielle used to and she said, ‘My name is Arielle,’” Sylear recounted while holding back tears.

With Gabrielle using her sister’s name, Sylear said her heart dropped and she knew something must have happened to Arielle.

Moments later, she received a call from East Point police. The words she heard would haunt her forever: “We found your baby.”

ExploreCops: Mother admitted to setting fire to East Point home to conceal girl’s death

Arielle Jackson, 4, was found dead the day before Thanksgiving in a bedroom of her upstairs apartment at the Polaris at East Point. The fire broke out at about 3 p.m. and spread quickly, leaving the building gutted and in ruins, city spokeswoman Renita Shelton said.

Gabrielle was also injured, sustaining burns to her hands, arms and portions of her face, according to officials.

The girls’ mother, 27-year-old Nicole Ashley Jackson, confessed to starting the fire in order to hide the death of Arielle, police said.

Nicole Jackson was first thought to have been a victim of the fire. After an extensive search and the discovery that possible accelerants were used, she was eventually arrested, police said. She faces charges of malice murder, felony murder, criminal attempt to commit murder and two counts of first-degree cruelty to children.

During Friday’s vigil, Sylear explained that her daughter struggled with mental illness. She noticed the signs. Tried to get help. But she said all of her cries fell on deaf ears.

“I want to humbly apologize for my daughter’s actions,” Sylear said. “I want to come together to try to tighten up this net so that children won’t suffer in the hands of their ill parent or even a parent crying out for help.”

ExploreMother of child killed in East Point apartment fire arrested, charged with murder

Despite the hurt Sylear and her family have been trying to overcome, she has found some peace knowing that Gabrielle has not let her sister’s death bring her down. Peace in that she can look into the child’s eyes and see a glimpse of Arielle.

In a poem read during the vigil and written by Sylear and her wife Tanya Jackson from the perspective of Gabrielle, death was not enough to break the bond between the sisters.

“In life you were my other half; in death, nothing has changed,” the poem read. “Your love is still my guide; and though no one else can see you, you reside in me through my eye.”

Since Arielle’s death, the twin’s teacher has also noticed a change in Gabrielle.

Tammy Way used to walk into her classroom every day with a smile across her face, excited to see her students. Arielle was always the first to pop out of her seat and wave at her teacher with enthusiasm.

Gabrielle would remain seated for a few more seconds, only to greet Way after her sister had already done so. Her timidness was evident.

But with her sister now gone, Gabrielle has come out of her shell. Sylear said she thinks Arielle is continuing to push her sister to be the best she can be.

“Gabrielle is content with life because Arielle is right by her side,” Sylear said. “She’s playing by herself, she’s sleeping by herself because Arielle is by her side. She never left.”