The FedEx delivery driver who authorities say kidnapped and killed 7-year-old Athena Strand in Wise County told investigators she was alive after he accidentally hit her with his truck. Still, he panicked, put her in the vehicle, and then killed her, according to an arrest warrant affidavit released Thursday.
Authorities in Wise County believe Tanner Lynn Horner, a FedEx contract driver, delivered a box to Athena’s father’s house around the time she went missing. A few days later, her body was found.
Horner of Fort Worth is being arrested on capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges, and his bail has been set at $1.5 million. If convicted, he might face the death sentence. It’s unknown if he has an attorney.
Elizabeth Strand contacted 911 at 6:40 p.m., according to an affidavit obtained by KTVT-TV (Channel 11). Her 7-year-old stepdaughter, Athena, was reported missing from her residence in the 200 block of County Road 3573 in Paradise on Nov. 30.
According to the affidavit, the stepmother informed deputies she had left Athena in her bedroom and gone to cook dinner. When the stepmother returned to the room, she stated that Athena had left and that she had seen nothing strange. According to the affidavit, Athena’s father, who had departed on a hunting trip, returned when he learned she was missing.
Authorities conducted a thorough investigation of the neighborhood that night and the next day, and they learned that a driver had brought a package to the home when Athena went missing, according to the affidavit.
Horner was recognized as the driver of a FedEx truck at a contracting firm that had video recording equipment placed by a third-party vendor and gave one-minute footage. According to the complaint, an FBI agent watched the video and saw the driver had taken a girl who resembled Athena in his van.
According to the affidavit, when detectives found Horner, he told them that he had abducted Athena and that she was dead. Horner told officials that he strangled her in the back of the FedEx truck because he was afraid she would tell her father about getting hit by the vehicle he was driving.
Horner directed detectives to County Road 4668 in Boyd, where they discovered a corpse, according to the affidavit. FedEx said in a statement released after Athena’s death was found last week, “words cannot describe our shock and sorrow surrounding this tragic event.”
“We continue to cooperate fully with the investigating authorities,” the FedEx statement said. An attorney for Athena’s family, Benson Varghese, said his firm is continuing to look into any potential culpability in her death.
“We’re investigating not just what FedEx’s responsibility might have been, but anyone else who was involved in the decisions that were made that led to this tragic loss,” Varghese said.
Athena’s mother, Marilyn Gandy, spoke in front of the Wise County courtroom on Thursday, holding the item the driver allegedly delivered before her daughter was abducted: a Christmas present for Athena. Gandy stated that she wanted to inform the world what was lost with Athena’s death and demanded responsibility to guarantee that no other mother has to go through what she is going through.
“Athena was robbed of the opportunity to grow up to be anything she wanted,” Gandy said. “And this present ordered out of innocence and love is one she will never receive.” Thousands attended a vigil on Tuesday for Athena, who Gandy described on Thursday as an animal lover with bright, blue eyes and an ornery smile who adored Christmas. According to her mother, Athena was half tomboy and part girlie-girl who enjoyed both flowers and playing in the mud.