News, Culture & Society

FedEx driver who killed Athena Strand, 7, hit her with van and strangled her because he panicked

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.

When Athena began saying she was going to tell her father about the accident, Horner attempted to silence her by breaking her neck and kill her, according to the affidavit.  

But Horner said he was unable to break her neck, so he strangled her ‘with his bare hands’ in his FedEx truck, the affidavit said. 

Investigators identified Horner as a suspect by after they learned FedEx had delivered a package at about the time Athena went missing. When they took him in for questioning, Horner told authorities what happened and said he would be willing to take them to the body. 

He brought police to a body of water, where Athena’s lifeless body was found and identified.

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 young girl's body was found just six miles from where she was taken

The young girl’s body was found just six miles from where she was taken 

At a news conference Thursday, Maitlyn Gandy — the mother of Athena — told how Horner, was delivering a You Can Be Anything Barbie to Strand’s father and stepmother’s house in Paradise, Texas, last Wednesday when he allegedly snatched the young girl and killed her.

‘This package is the first time I’m seeing it,’ Gandy said of the now-opened Walmart box, as she explained that the Barbie dolls were set to be a Christmas present for her daughter.

‘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.’

Horner is being held at the Wise County Law Enforcement Center in Texas on a $1.5million bond, as prosecutors work to seek the death penalty. He is facing capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges.

Horner, 31, confessed to police to abducting and killing Athena Strand, 7, Wednesday afternoon. Authorities are now seeking the death penalty in his case

Horner, 31, confessed to police to abducting and killing Athena Strand, 7, Wednesday afternoon. Authorities are now seeking the death penalty in his case

Texas authorities said Horner’s case is scheduled to be turned over to the district attorney next week.

In the meantime, the Wise County Sheriff’s Office will continue to follow-up on tips they receive from the public so they can build an air-tight case against him.

‘Because of the age of the child, and because it was an abduction, we are going to pursue the death penalty,’ Sheriff Lane Atkin told WFAA.

Meanwhile, the attorneys representing Gandy and her family are planning to conduct their own investigation to determine whether FedEx could have done more to prevent the tragedy. 

Benson Varghese would not go as far as to announce a lawsuit against the shipping company, but asked community members to contact them with any information — even if they, too, had just received a package from Horner that day.

‘We want a thorough investigation,’ he said, as he told reporters that he has a number of people he would like to speak with.

He added that he ‘wholeheartedly agrees’ with the sheriff’s decision to seek the death penalty, saying: ‘It is undoubtedly appreciated.’

Gandy vowed she will continue to seek justice for her daughter.

‘I will spend the rest of my life fighting for her so that no other family will endure such unbearable pain and grief,’ she said.

‘A monster attempted to take Athena’s voice — but we are her voice,’ Gandy told reporters Thursday, adding: ‘Screening and hiring policies must be put into place so that monsters wearing delivery uniforms don’t show up on our children’s footsteps.’ 

The box Horner was delivering included You Can Be Anything Barbie dolls meant for Strand

The box Horner was delivering included You Can Be Anything Barbie dolls meant for Strand

Gandy said she will continue to seek justice for her daughter, saying 'screening and hiring policies must be put into place so that monsters wearing delivery uniforms don't show up on our children's footsteps'

Gandy said she will continue to seek justice for her daughter, saying ‘screening and hiring policies must be put into place so that monsters wearing delivery uniforms don’t show up on our children’s footsteps’

Maitlyn Gandy — the mother of Athena Strand — told how Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, was delivering a Christmas present for her daughter when he allegedly kidnapped and killed her

The FedEx van Homer was said to have been driving was found several miles away from where Athena was abducted

The FedEx van Homer was said to have been driving was found several miles away from where Athena was abducted

FedEx released a statement on Friday night expressing its condolences to the family: ‘Words cannot describe our shock at the reports surrounding this tragic event. First and foremost, our thoughts are with the family during this most difficult time.’

When asked about their hiring practices, a spokesperson for FedEx told FOX News Digital that it ‘contracts for transportation, pickup, and delivery services with more than 6,000 independent businesses that are committed to providing outstanding package pickup and delivery services using their own employees.’ 

The spokesperson also said each employee is subject to a criminal background check and ‘should we become aware of any criminal activity within our network, we work swiftly to investigate and address those incidents, including cooperating with law enforcement.’

Wise County Sheriff  Lane Akin says he is seeking the death penalty for the man accused of kidnapping and murdering the seven-year-old girl

Wise County Sheriff  Lane Akin says he is seeking the death penalty for the man accused of kidnapping and murdering the seven-year-old girl

Police say they connected Horner to the killing based on a tip they received, and his FedEx delivery route on Wednesday

They say he snatched Athena Strand from the driveway of her family home in Paradise, Texas, that afternoon, after the girl stepped outside following an argument with her stepmother and as Horner was delivering a package.

Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, confessed to police to abducting and killing Athena Wednesday

Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, confessed to police to abducting and killing Athena Wednesday

When Athena didn’t come back inside and could not be found in her bedroom, her stepmother reported her missing to police at about 6.40pm. 

Local police then worked in tandem with the FBI, Texas Rangers and Wise County Sheriff’s Offices to bring the case to a speedy yet tragic end — although two false leads sent police looking in the wrong places for the girl.

The youngster’s body was eventually found in Boyd, about six miles from the home.

Horner confessed shortly after being apprehended and now faces capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges. 

He is the only suspect authorities believe is responsible in the case, Sheriff Akin said. He did not have any connection to the family.

Gandy described her daughter as a 'free-spirited and innocent' little girl 'who loved dancing, singing and all animals'

Gandy described her daughter as a ‘free-spirited and innocent’ little girl ‘who loved dancing, singing and all animals’

The grieving mother died her hair pink in her daughter's memory, as she spoke about how she will have to celebrate Christmas without Athena for the first time in seven years

The grieving mother died her hair pink in her daughter’s memory, as she spoke about how she will have to celebrate Christmas without Athena for the first time in seven years

At the news conference on Thursday, Gandy — who died her hair pink in her daughter’s memory — spoke about the loss.

She said it would be the first Christmas — Athena’s favorite holiday — in seven years where she will not be able to hear or see ‘the excitement of Athena opening gifts from Santa.

‘The joy Athena gave her family and the joy she felt on Christmas is one we’ll never feel with her again,’ Gandy said, adding: ‘I will never be able to hear her say, ‘I love you mommy.’

‘I will never be able to do her hair again or watch her as she sleeps,’ she continued. ‘I was robbed of watching her grow up — by a man that everyone was supposed to be able to trust to do one simple task: Deliver a Christmas present and leave.’ 

Gandy then went on to describe her daughter as a ‘free-spirited and innocent’ little girl ‘who loved dancing, singing and all animals’ and who was ‘not afraid to get down in the dirt with the boys.’ 

She asked everyone in attendance to ‘hold you little sis a little tighter for me.’ 

Athena with her younger sister, Rye. According to the pair's mother, they hated to be apart

Athena with her younger sister, Rye. According to the pair’s mother, they hated to be apart

Athena's mother posted the video alongside this heartbreaking Facebook post

Athena’s mother posted the video alongside this heartbreaking Facebook post 

Gandy previously shared a heartbreaking video on Facebook, revealing how her younger daughter, Rye, kept crying after Athena left to spend time with her father and stepmother.

She was set to return to her mother and sister in Comanche, Oklahoma, for Christmas. 

The video was recorded on November 27, days before Athena was first reported missing on November 30. She was found dead on December 2. 

Gandy says that the video shows Rye ‘begging for her sissy.’ 

She says: ‘I kept telling her, ‘It’s okay, we will see sissy soon.’ Not knowing how twisted our lives would become. I took it because she does this anytime she thinks sissy is going somewhere without her.’

Eventually, Gandy says, Rye cried herself to sleep. The grieving mother continued: ‘This monster has now extended those feelings for my youngest daughter indefinitely.’ 

In another post, Gandy wrote: ‘Daddy and mommy were scared of how beautiful she has always been and we feel like we failed you. No one deserves what happened to you, but especially you. I love you and love doesn’t even cover it. Mommy is broken without you.’

She went on to describe her angel as ‘innocent, beautiful, kind, intelligent and just the brightest, happiest soul you could ever meet.’  

Gandy continued: ‘I don’t want her to be the girl known as the one murdered and discarded by a monster. I want everyone to know, every single person in this world, that this is my baby and my baby was taken from me.’ 

Athena's grandfather Mark Strand wrote that, despite part of him wanting 'five minutes alone in a cell' with Horner, he decided to listen to another part that told him forgiveness was the only way for him and his family to recover

Athena’s grandfather Mark Strand wrote that, despite part of him wanting ‘five minutes alone in a cell’ with Horner, he decided to listen to another part that told him forgiveness was the only way for him and his family to recover

Meanwhile, Athena’s grandfather, Mark Strand, said on Facebook that, despite part of him wanting ‘five minutes alone in a cell’ with Horner, he decided to listen to another part that told him forgiveness was the only way for him and his family to recover. 

‘This man I am is angry, and I want five minutes alone in a cell with the psycho that took our Athena away from us, but there’s a soft, gentle voice in the back of my head telling me I need to forgive him,’ he wrote in an emotional Facebook post.

‘If I allow this hate to consume me, that voice will fade and eventually be silenced. Then that ugly spirit of hate will have succeeded and that’s why this gentle voice persists to tell me I need to forgive this man.’

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk



Find local lawyers and law firms at USAttorneys.com