A FedEx driver admitted to kidnapping and strangling 7-year-old Athena Strand after he hit the child with his van as he made a delivery at her Texas home, according to a newly released arrest warrant.
Tanner Horner told investigators that although Athena was not badly hurt when he backed into her, he panicked and grabbed her as he was afraid she would tell her father what had happened, according to the warrant, which was obtained by The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Mr Horner is accused of murdering the child on 30 November, while her body was recovered on 2 December from a location at the edge of the Trinity River in Wise County that he gave to police.
The arrest warrant states that video from inside the FedEx van the suspect was driving, confirmed that he had taken the child before her death.
Mr Horner then told investigators that he first tried unsuccessfully to break her neck, before strangling her to death with his bare hands in the back of his delivery van.
The 31-year-old from Fort Worth, Texas, was arrested on 2 December and is being held on a $1.5m bond in the Wise County Jail. He faces charges of capital murder of a person under 10 years old and aggravated kidnapping.
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin has said that he and prosecutors have discussed pursuing the death penalty punishment if Mr Horner is convicted at trial.
Athena’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy, has said that the suspect was at the house of her ex-husband to deliver a package of Barbie dolls as a Christmas gift for Athena.
Investigators discovered during their hunt for the then-missing girl that FedEx had delivered a package around the time that the child had disappeared, the warrant states.
They worked with Big Topspin, a contractor for FedEx who the suspect worked for, and determined which FedEx van and driver had made the delivery.
Investigators then obtained video footage from cameras inside the van, which the warrant says showed the suspect talking to Athena after he grabbed her.
When a sheriff’s office investigator and a Texas Ranger interviewed the suspect he told them that she was dead, although she had been alive when he took her and gave him her name.