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Texas Lawmakers Pass Bill Inspired By Athena Strand, Allegedly Killed By FedEx Driver Delivering Her Christmas Gift
The "Athena Alert" bill would let authorities notify the nearby public when a child goes missing more swiftly than a statewide AMBER Alert, which requires a case to be confirmed as an abduction.
Both the Texas Senate and House have now passed a bill inspired by 7-year-old Athena Strand — who was allegedly abducted and murdered by a contracted FedEx driver last year — that would help spread the word faster to locals when a child goes missing.
The "Athena Alert" bill would let authorities quickly issue an alert to those who live within a 100-mile radius from where a kid goes missing, and other area counties, notifying the public more swiftly than a statewide AMBER Alert, which requires a case to be confirmed as an abduction.
“If this alert had been in place when my daughter disappeared, I have no doubt that the Wise County Sheriff’s Office would have activated it," Athena's mother, Maitlyn Gandy, said last month while testifying in front of lawmakers in Austin. "Unfortunately, their hands were tied because my daughter’s disappearance didn’t immediately meet the strict criteria for a statewide AMBER alert.
"It was a helpless feeling that I wouldn’t wish on any parent," she continued. "My hope is that every state will follow Texas’ lead and amend the law so that no other parent has to wait when their child is missing."
The “Athena Alert” bill was passed by the Texas Senate on Wednesday, about two weeks after being passed by the state's House of Representatives. It will now be sent to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who will decide whether to sign it into law.
“I am so grateful to Texas lawmakers for fast-tracking the Athena Alert and for everyone who has supported this legislation,” Gandy said in a Thursday press release from her lawyers, obtained by Law&Crime. “It means so much to know that my daughter’s life will have a lasting impact."
Athena was playing in the front yard of her dad's home in Paradise, Texas, located in Wise County, on Nov. 30, 2022 when she seemingly vanished. Gandy's lawyers said in their Thursday press release that an AMBER Alert was not sent out until about 24 hours later, the amount of time it took those on the case to determine that her disappearance met the requirements for the alert.
On Dec. 2 — two days after Athena vanished and a day after the AMBER Alert was issued — the child's body was found just six miles away from the site she was abducted from.
Tanner Horner was charged with capital murder and kidnapping in connection with the girl's death, and is facing the death penalty.
Athena's family has said that the girl was abducted while Horner was delivering her Christmas present, a “You Can Be Anything” Barbie set.
In February, Gandy joined a civil lawsuit initially brought by Athena's father, Jacob Strand, against FedEx and contracting company Big Topspin, accusing the businesses of negligence in their hiring of Horner. The delivery driver has been charged separately with three counts of child sexual abuse related to incidents that go back to 2013.
Horner allegedly confessed to Athena’s killing, telling authorities that he strangled the girl to death after accidentally striking her with his van, but he later pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned on capital murder and kidnapping charges in March.
“The support for this bill has been overwhelming,” Benson Varghese, Gandy’s lawyer, said in his firm's Thursday press release on the bill's Senate passing. “It’s a common sense bill that will save lives without creating a financial burden on taxpayers or an operational burden on law enforcement.
“The Athena Alert uses systems that are already in place for an AMBER Alert," Varghese added. "The key distinction is that the alert can go out as soon as a child is known to be missing, in close proximity to their last known location. The higher threshold of knowing a child has been abducted is reserved for the statewide notification that the AMBER Alert provides. The sooner we can get the word out locally, the more chances we have to save a child’s life.”