NOTE: This article contains violent, disturbing descriptions. Please read at your own discretion.
Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, is currently being held on capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges in the death of seven-year-old Athena Strand. Horner told Wise County investigators that Strand was allegedly largely unharmed after he hit her with his delivery van, but he “panicked” and ultimately chose to kill her when Strand said she would tell her father about the incident.
Strand was reported missing by her father and stepmother after she disappeared from her home in Paradise, Texas, on Nov. 30. Two days later, police say Horner led investigators to her body about 10 miles outside of Paradise. Her body was found in the water, the warrant states.
Strand’s stepmother says she last saw the girl after asking her to gather up her dirty clothes for the laundry. About 20 to 30 minutes later, the warrant reads, Strand’s stepmother came to tell her that dinner was ready — but the seven-year-old was nowhere to be found.
Investigators later learned that a FedEx package had been delivered around the time Strand’s stepmother first noticed her gone. They identified the driver of the van as Horner.
In a news conference held Thursday, Strand’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy, said the package Horner delivered had been her daughter’s Christmas gift.
“The packages contained, ‘You Can Be Anything’ Barbies,” Gandy told the press, as reported by NBC. “Athena was robbed of the opportunity to grow up to be anything she wanted to be. And this present, ordered out of innocence and love, is one she will never receive.”
Gandy, who resides in Oklahoma, said she was supposed to bring Strand “back home” after Christmas break.
“Now instead, Athena will be cremated and she will come home in an urn because I am not anywhere close to being ready to let my baby go,” Gandy said, breaking out into tears.
Local police worked with the FBI to obtain video footage from a security camera within Horner’s van, and investigators were able to view a one-minute clip that showed a girl matching Strand’s description in the vehicle.
“The driver was seen on video talking to her in the van,” the arrest warrant states.
When investigators located and questioned Horner, he said that he accidentally hit Strand while he was backing up his van, though she wasn’t seriously harmed.
“He panicked and put Athena in the van,” the warrant reads.
Horner told police he tried to break Strand’s neck but was unable to do so. He said he eventually strangled her “with his bare hands in the back of the FedEx van.”
The warrant says that Horner stated multiple times that he “strangled Athena because she was going to tell her father about being hit by the FedEx truck the Defendant was operating.”
FedEx said the company’s thoughts are with the family affected by the “tragic” murder, adding that it is cooperating with the police investigation.
“Words cannot describe our shock and sorrow at the reports surrounding this tragic event,” FedEx said.
Several people, including multiple deliverymen, are acknowledging the shocking crime on social media. One video appears to show a FedEx deliveryman, who states, “Your babys are safe on my route.”
Another user who appeared to be an Amazon delivery driver posted a similar video, writing, “She didn’t deserve what happened! #justiceforathena.”
One user’s comment, which was liked 28,000 times, reads, “My driver today stopped at the end of the driveway, showed his driver’s license and FedEx uniform on full display and asked to approach my son and I.”
A video from another user claims that their FedEx driver no longer comes to give the user’s child high fives anymore.
Horner is being held on a US$1.5-million bail.
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