The FedEx driver accused of abducting and killing a 7-year-old girl last week in Texas told authorities that he strangled her after accidentally hitting her with his van while making a delivery at her home, according to an arrest warrant.
Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, told investigators that Athena Strand wasn’t seriously hurt after he hit her while backing up, but he panicked and put her in his van. He said she was talking to him and told him her name, the affidavit said.
The affidavit said Horner took investigators to where he’d left Athena’s body.
The girl’s mother said she wanted everyone to know about the “amazing little girl” who would have received the Christmas present that driver dropped off the day she disappeared.
“I was robbed of watching her grow up,” Maitlyn Gandy told those gathered at a Thursday news conference in Decatur, Texas. She stood beside the present, a box of “You Can Be Anything” Barbies.
Athena Strand was found dead on Dec. 2, two days after she was reported missing from the home of her father and stepmother in Paradise, a town of fewer than 500 people about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Dallas.
Horner confessed to killing Athena and told authorities where to find her body, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin has said. Horner, who didn’t know the family, was arrested on charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping.
The sheriff has said they knew early on that a delivery had been made at the girl’s home at about the same time that she disappeared. Authorities haven’t said how she died but Akin has said investigators believe she was killed about “an hour or so” after being kidnapped.
Gandy, who spoke in front of the Wise County courthouse in Decatur, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) northeast of Paradise, said that Athena had been set to return home to her in Oklahoma after Christmas break.
“Now, instead, Athena will be cremated and she will come home in an urn because I’m not even, I’m not anywhere close to being ready to let my baby go,” she said.
Gandy said her daughter, who loved school and her friends in the first grade, also “loved dancing, singing and all animals: dogs, cats, horses, lizards and chinchillas.”
She said Athena loved flowers, and also wasn’t afraid to get “down in the mud with the boys.” “She was her father’s daughter,” Gandy said.
“I will never see her bright blue eyes or her ornery smile again,” Gandy said. “I will never be able to hear her say, ‘I love you, Mommy.’ I will never be able to do her hair again or to hold her while she sleeps.”
She thanked the community, saying they “flew into action” from the moment Athena went missing and she’s been seeing people everywhere wearing pink in her daughter’s honor. At a vigil Tuesday night in Paradise, many of the mourners gathered to remember Athena wore pink.
“I ask everyone to hold your littles just a little tighter for me,” Gandy said.
Gandy was joined at the news conference by her attorney, Benson Varghese, who said they were looking into anyone “involved in the decisions that were made that led to this tragic loss.”
Horner remained jailed Thursday on $1.5 million bond. Jail records did not list an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
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