"She was an amazing little girl who loved singing, dancing, and all animals," the grieving mother said.
Athena Strand who had gone missing from her home on Wednesday was found dead last Friday. FedEx driver has been suspected of killing the 7-year-old girl. Police suspect the FedEx driver, Tanner Lynn Horner, had delivered a package to her home around the time she vanished, per CBS. This package contained a set of Barbie dolls that Horner had delivered before allegedly abducting Athena, per PEOPLE.
According to KTVT-TV, Athena's grieving mother Maitlyn Gandy said on Thursday outside the Wise County Courthouse in Decatur, Texas, that the Barbies from the You Can Be Anything collection was supposed to be a Christmas gift for Athena—one that the little girl will never be able to play with.
Happening now: #AthenaStrand’s mother Maityln Gandy speaks to the media for the first time. Her 7-year-old daughter was abducted and killed by a contracted FedEx driver last week. Next to her is the package that was delivered, it was a Christmas present to Athena. @CBSDFW pic.twitter.com/yE45PVQMLs— Nick Starling (@NickStarlingTV) December 8, 2022
"Athena was robbed of the opportunity to be anything she wanted to be. And this present, ordered out of innocence and love is one she will never receive," Gandy told reporters, alongside her attorney, Benson Varghese. "In this present ordered out of innocence and love, my innocent, free-spirited 7-year-old daughter was murdered," Gandy added. "I was supposed to bring Athena after Christmas break. Instead, she will be cremated and come home in an urn because I am not ready to let my baby go."
UPDATE: The FedEx driver accused of kidnapping and killing 7-year-old girl Athena Strand says he strangled her after he accidentally backed into her with his truck.https://t.co/YjDIvJ0GmK— Alanna Quillen (@AlannaNBC5) December 9, 2022
"We knew early on in the investigation that there had been a FedEx driver, made a delivery in front of the house, about the same time that little Athena, 7-year-old Athena, came up missing," Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said. Athens likely died " within the very hour or so after her departure from her home," Akin said. She was reported missing at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday after her stepmother failed to locate her in the house.
Horner allegedly confessed to the murder and directed investigators to her body. He allegedly told authorities that after accidentally hitting her with his van while making a delivery at her home, he strangled her, according to an arrest warrant, reports ABC7. According to investigators, he told them that Strand was not seriously injured after he hit her while backing up, but he panicked and put her in his van. Per the affidavit, he claimed she told him her name. According to the warrant, Horner also told police during the interview that he strangled Athena because she was going to tell her father about being hit by the FedEx truck.
The community of Paradise, Texas is mourning the loss of 7-year-old Athena Strand, whose body was found two days after she was reported missing.— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) December 6, 2022
Athena’s grandfather says he is attempting to forgive the FedEx driver who has admitted to kidnapping and killing her. pic.twitter.com/9ByErbUMGB
"I was robbed of watching her grow up by a man everyone was supposed to trust to just one simple task — deliver a Christmas present and leave," Gandy said, according to KTVT. "She was an amazing little girl who loved singing, dancing, and all animals," she continued. "She also loved school and all her friends in the first grade who are also struggling with her senseless murder. Athena also loved flowers, but she wasn't afraid to get down in the mud with the boys. She was her father's daughter."
The driver 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. https://t.co/WWqXRFqSzn— NewsChannel 8 | KTUL (@KTULNews) December 9, 2022
Police initially theorized she left the home on her own and may have gotten lost. Her family later however told police the girl is afraid of the dark and they were unsure she would willingly leave home alone.
Horner is being held on $1.5 million bond on charges of aggravated kidnapping and capital murder, jail records indicate.
Cover Image Source: YouTube | CBS Evening News