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FedEx Driver Was Delivering Athena Strand’s Christmas Present When She Was Allegedly Abducted And Killed, Mom Says
“Athena was robbed of the opportunity to grow up to be anything she wanted. And this present, ordered out of innocence and love, is one she will never receive,” Athena Strand’s mother said of the “You Can Be Anything” Barbie doll set meant for her daughter.
The FedEx driver, now accused of killing 7-year-old Athena Strand, was delivering the young girl’s Christmas present to her home when she was abducted and killed, according to her mother.
Strand’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy, brought the package of “You Can Be Anything” Barbie dolls to a press conference Thursday to address her daughter’s devastating Nov. 30 death.
“Athena was robbed of the opportunity to grow up to be anything she wanted. And this present, ordered out of innocence and love, is one she will never receive,” Gandy said, according to NBC Dallas Fort-Worth affiliate KXAS-TV.
Gandy said Strand had been staying with her stepmother and father in Paradise, Texas when she disappeared the evening of Nov. 30. Her body was found two days later on a county road southeast of Boyd— about 30 miles northwest of the Dallas Fort-Worth area — according to an earlier press conference streamed by ABC affiliate WFAA.
“I was supposed to bring Athena back to our home in Oklahoma after Christmas break,” Gandy said. “Now, instead, Athena will be cremated and come home in an urn because I am not even close to being ready to let her go.”
Investigators quickly learned that a package had been delivered to the home around the same time Strand disappeared and later linked the alleged kidnapping to a driver contracted with the shipping giant, 31-year-old Tanner Lynn Horner.
Authorities said that Horner later confessed to the killing, telling investigators that he strangled the 7-year-old to death after he accidentally hit her with his van, according to an arrest warrant obtained by The Associated Press.
Strand was not seriously injured in the crash and was still able to talk to Horner and tell him her name, but he allegedly panicked and put her in his van.
Horner told law enforcement officers that he had tried to break the young girl’s neck, but when that didn’t work, he strangled her to death, according to the court records. He later directed investigators to where he hid the body, authorities said.
Gandy is now left mourning all the things she’ll never be able to do with her daughter.
“I will never be able to do her hair again or hold her while she sleeps,” she said. “I was robbed of watching her grow up by a man that everyone was supposed to be able to trust to do one simple task: deliver a Christmas package and leave.”
Gandy is hoping to keep her daughter’s voice alive, even in her absence.
“She was an amazing little girl who loved dancing, singing and all animals — dogs, cats, horses, lizards, chinchillas,” she said. “She also loved school and all her friends in the first grade, who are now struggling with her senseless murder.”
In the wake of the tragedy, Gandy hopes to institute change in honor of her daughter.
“Screening and hiring policies must be put into place so that monsters wearing delivery uniforms don’t show up on our children’s doorsteps,” she said. “Please help me keep Athena’s light shining.”
Gandy’s attorney, Benson Varghese, also spoke at the press conference, saying the law firm’s short-term focus is on helping Strand’s family so they can mourn the loss of their daughter.
“Our long-term goals are to thoroughly investigate how and why this happened and to hold any person or corporation accountable whose actions or inactions could have prevented this little girl’s death,” he said, adding they planned to “leave no stone unturned” in their quest for justice.
Horner, who is facing charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping, is currently being held at the Wise County Jail on a $1.5 million bond. Prosecutors said they intend to seek the death penalty in his case.