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A FedEx driver has been charged with capital murder and kidnapping in the death of a missing 7-year-old girl who disappeared Wednesday after a package was delivered to her Paradise, Texas home.
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin announced the arrest Friday of 31-year-old Tanner Lynn Horner, who had been working as a contract driver for the shipping giant, after investigators discovered the body of Athena Strand on a county road southeast of Boyd, according to a press conference streamed by ABC affiliate WFAA.
“It hurts our hearts to know that that child died,” Akin said. “So much so that she is on her way now to the medical examiner’s office and there’s a Texas Ranger in front of her and there’s a Texas Ranger behind her. This community does not like losing our children and we can see it because of all the people who came out and helped us throughout this ordeal.”
Strand was last seen by her stepmother around 4:45 p.m. Wednesday at their Paradise home.
“We know that there was a little bit of an argument between her and her stepmom last night, but it isn’t anything unusual,” Akin previously said, according to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “There was that argument, then stepmom went to fix dinner, came back to get Athena, and Athena wasn’t in her room.”
The stepmother reported her missing around 5:40 p.m. that night.
Akin said Friday evening that “early on in the investigation” they learned that a FedEx driver had made a delivery in front of the house “about the same time” that Athena disappeared.
They were able to link Horner to the crime after reviewing digital evidence in the case and receiving an alleged confession.
“We do have a confession,” he said. “We really can’t get into the content of the confession, but I will say that we have a confession.”
Akin said investigators believe the 7-year-old died within an hour or so of her abduction.
“It’s one of the toughest investigations that I’ve been involved in because it’s a child and anytime there’s a child that dies it just hits you in the heart,” he told reporters. “You compare that child to your own children when they were that age and it just takes the wind out of your sails, but at the same time, it gives you purpose because you want to make sure that you do the best you can so that you get the best resources together to do what has been done here.”
Akin added that he was “in awe” of the law enforcement team — which included members of the FBI, Texas Rangers and Wise County Sheriff’s Office — who were able to apprehend a suspect and discover the body within just three days.
Investigators do not believe that Horner had any connection to the family.
In light of the tragedy, FedEx released a statement on social media Saturday morning.
“Our thoughts are with the family of Athena Strand during this most difficult time,” they wrote. “Words cannot describe our shock and sorrow surrounding this tragic event. We continue to cooperate fully with the investigative authorities.”
Akin said Friday that FedEx had helped them track Horner down to make the arrest.
Strand’s mother, Maitlyn Presley Gandy, addressed her heartache in a series of messages on Facebook, referring to Horner as a “monster.”
“This is the monster that took my baby from me and this world,” she wrote in one message alongside a photo of Horner’s mugshot. “I will make damn sure you learn what you took from me and her daddy.”
In another post, she thanked the community and law enforcement for their support.
“Today has been a day of making hard decisions. Decisions no parent should ever have to make. The next few days will be more of what today has been,” she wrote. “I cannot thank everyone enough for all of the prayers, kind words, support, fundraisers, and donations we have been receiving. More importantly, I cannot thank everyone enough for sharing Athena’s photos and story. Please don’t stop.”
Gandy described her daughter as someone who loved “to dress up as a princess,” the color pink and spending time with her two sisters.
“She loves all animals and all people,” she wrote in one post, adding that she also loved to swim, draw and laugh. “Athena has the best laugh.”
Horner, who is now facing charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping, is currently being held at the Wise County Jail on a $1.5 million bond, Akin said.
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