A FedEx contracted driver reportedly confessed to the kidnapping and murder of missing 7-year-old Athena Strand, Texas authorities say.
Athena disappeared from her home in Paradise, North Texas on Wednesday, November 30.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers, families and volunteers spent two days searching homes and scouring the area’s rugged terrain for the missing first-grader.
On Friday, authorities announced that they had taken into custody a FedEx delivery driver who was at Athena’s home at the time of her disappearance.
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin told reporters that the driver, Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, allegedly confessed to her abduction and murder.
He directed authorities to her body, which was found six miles from her home.
According to Wise County Jail records, Mr Horner was arrested at 2 a.m. on Friday on one count of aggravated murder of a person under 10 and aggravated kidnapping. His bail was set at $1.5 million.
Mr Horner worked as an Uber driver, according to reports, and posted on social media about his status as a musician.
Here’s everything we know about the case:
Athena Presley Monroe Strand was last seen at her home at 200 Block of County Rd 3573 in Paradise around 5:40 p.m. Wednesday.
According to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, she was dropped off from school at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Athena would have left the family home after a quarrel with her stepmother. His father had gone on a deer hunting trip at the time.
The girl’s mother-in-law called 911 around 6:40 p.m. after she couldn’t find the girl.
“Then my mother-in-law went to cook dinner, came back to pick up Athena, and Athena was not in her room,” Mr Akin said.
Deputies responding to the 911 call surveyed the area around his home.
A day later, authorities issued an Amber Alert for Athena, who was just four feet tall and weighed 65 pounds.
She was described as having blonde hair and blue eyes, and was last seen wearing a long-sleeved gray shirt with white flowers on the pockets and brown boots.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean we expect foul play, but we understand it could be a possibility,” Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said. KPRC2.
The family said Athena was afraid of the dark and would not have gone alone.
The search intensifies
On Thursday night, local police and the Texas Department of Public Safety continued to search for Athena using thermal imaging helicopters and K-9 units.
US Marshals, the FBI and the Texas Rangers also joined the investigation.
Her birth mother, Maitlyn Presley Gandy, pleaded on social media for the public’s help.
“Athena did not walk away or disappear on her own. I won’t give up or stop until I get Athena back,” Ms Presley, who lives in Oklahoma, said in a Facebook post on Thursday.
“I feel like there’s a hole in my heart and half of my soul is missing… Please don’t give up on my baby.”
Ms Gandy called for volunteers to join the search, and hundreds showed up to scour the rugged terrain around her home.
The Wise County Sheriff’s Office then issued a Facebook plea for volunteers not to show up at the family home.
At a press conference on Friday evening, Mr. Akin announced that authorities had arrested a driver under FedEx contract.
Investigators had determined that Tanner Horner, 31, had made a deposit near the family home around the time of Athena’s disappearance.
Mr Akin said the driver allegedly confessed to taking Athena and showed them where her body could be found, in a ditch about 10km from Paradise.
They believed she was dead within an hour of her abduction, but did not provide further details on how she was killed.
“This is one of the most difficult investigations I have been involved in because he is a child,” Mr. Akin said at the press conference, according to Fox4.
“Every time a child dies, it strikes your heart.”
Mr. Horner was taken to Wise County Jail on charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping and his bond was set at $1.5 million.
He does not appear to have any connection to the girl’s family, the sheriff said, and does not appear to have a criminal record. The sheriff did not reveal a motive.
In a statement to Fox4FedEx said, “Words cannot describe our shock and grief at the information surrounding this tragic event.
“First and foremost, our thoughts are with the family during this most difficult time, and we continue to cooperate fully with the investigating authorities. At this time, any further questions should be directed to the forces of the ‘order.
Authorities initially said Mr Horner was from the Lake Worth area. Lake Worth City Police Chief said in a tweet that he lived near the lake itself.
A Facebook account that appears to belong to the suspect suggested he was a father of a child, fiancé and singer in a local band.
The Independent Gt