The grieving community of Wise County, Texas, gathered to pay tribute to slain seven-year-old Athena Strand at a candlelight vigil on Tuesday night, days after she was abducted and murdered.
In her first public remarks since the horror killing, Athena’s mother Maitlyn Presley Gandy vowed to keep her daughter’s story alive.
“I want everyone to know Athena for Athena, not what someone tried to make her out to be. Because she was the best little girl,” she said.
Not mentioned during the vigil was suspect Tanner Horner, the FedEx driver accused of kidnapping and killing Athena on 30 November.
After Athena was reported missing, hundreds of volunteers joined the search before the little girl’s body was found six miles away from her Paradise home on Friday.
Police said that Mr Horner confessed to snatching the little girl before killing her within an hour of her abduction. He faces charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping.
No motive has been given for what police branded a “crime of opportunity”.
ICYMI: Everything we know about Tanner Horner
Wise County sheriff Lane Akin told reporters that the driver, 31-year-old Tanner Lynn Horner, allegedly confessed to her abduction and murder two days earlier on 30 November.
He directed authorities to her body, which was found six miles from her home in Paradise.
According to Wise County Jail records, Mr Horner was booked at 2am on Friday on one count of of capital murder of a person under 10 and aggravated kidnapping. His bond was set at $1.5m.
Mr Horner has worked as an Uber driver, according to reports, and posted on social media about being a musician.
The suspect is not believed to have any prior connection to Athena. No motive has been released and police labeled the tragedy a “crime of opportunity”.
Here’s everything we know about Tanner Lynn Horner and the case as a whole:
Megan Sheets7 December 2022 14:10
Mother posts heartbreaking video of Athena’s sister
Maitlyn Presley Gandy posted a video on Monday of her younger daughter sobbing uncontrollably for her “sissy.”
The video was taken days before Athena went missing, as the seven-year-old was visiting her father in Texas.
At the time, Ms Gandy said she assured the unconsolable girl that her sister would be back with them in Oklahoma soon.
“That video of [redacted] begging for her sissy was Sunday 11/27 when we thought sissy would only be gone a few days. I kept telling her, ‘it’s okay, we will see sissy soon,’ not knowing how twisted our lives would become,” Ms Gandy wrote.
Megan Sheets7 December 2022 13:40
First grade teacher tells of classmates’ pain
Athena’s first grade teacher Lindsey Thompson also addressed the vigil, telling of the heartbreak felt by the seven-year-old’s classmate.
“Every one of my students plays an important role in our classroom family, and now we’re missing one of those students,” Ms Thompson said.
“I now have 18 six and seven-year-olds who are hurting because they no longer have a friend and classmate.”
The vigil also featured remarks from the pastor of First Baptist Church, a member of the Wise County Sheriff’s office and Wise County Judge JD Clark.
The judge vowed to stop such evil from entering the community again, saying: “Not in our county, and not our kids.”
The event was centred around a stage fittingly decorated in pink – Athena’s favorite colour – with an illuminated angel in the center.
The front of the stage was adorned with photos and artworks of the seven-year-old.
Megan Sheets7 December 2022 13:10
Athena’s mother shares heartbreak at vigil
Athena Strand’s heartbroken mother Maitlyn Presley Gandy paid tribute to the slain seven-year-old at an emotional candlelight vigil, vowing to keep her daughter’s story alive.
Thousands of people attended the vigil at First Baptist Church in Cottondale on Tuesday night, less than a week after Athena was allegedly kidnapped and killed by FedEx driver suspect Tanner Horner in Paradise.
“I just want to keep her face and story alive,” Ms Gandy said. “I want everyone to know Athena for Athena, not what someone tried to make her out to be. Because she was the best little girl.”
The heartbroken mother thanked the many volunteers who had helped search for her daughter and the massive crowd gathered to honour her at the vigil.
“Y’all are amazing people, and I don’t know how to thank you all for all you’ve done for my family, especially my baby,” she said.
“I just want y’all to know that she was amazing and that she would truly love every single one of you because she has loved every human she has ever met.”
Megan Sheets7 December 2022 12:37
Authorities describe investigation as ‘one of the toughest’
In a press conference on Friday, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin announced that authorities had taken a FedEx contract driver into custody.
Investigators had determined that Tanner Horner, 31, had made a drop-off near the family home around the time Athena went missing.
Mr Akin said the driver had allegedly confessed to taking Athena and shown them where her body could be found, in a ditch around six miles out of Paradise.
They believed she had died within an hour of her abduction, but did not provide further details on how she was killed.
“It’s one of the toughest investigations I have been involved in because it’s a child,” Mr Akin said at the press conference, according to Fox4.
“Any time there’s a child that dies it just hits you in your heart.”
Andrea Blanco7 December 2022 12:15
Bizarre Instagram posts by man accused of killing Athena Strand
Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, is accused of snatching little Athena from her home in Paradise, Texas, before killing her and dumping her body in a ditch about six miles away.
Following his arrest, the aspiring musician’s interest in dark song lyrics and disturbing social media posts have emerged.
In several social media posts, seen by The Independent, the suspect repeatedly uses a racial slur and in one he boasts about a dagger he says he received as a present.
Rachel Sharp has the story:
Andrea Blanco7 December 2022 11:30
Superintendent of school district Athena attended calls for prayers
Rod Townsend, superintendent of Paradise Independent School District, called for the school community to pray for the child and her family.
“It is with a sad and heavy heart that I address you. We lost a precious member of our student body. Athena Strand was tragically lost this past week,” Mr Townsend wrote in a post addressed to the school district’s community of students, staff and parents.
“This world will forever be different because she wasn’t allowed to grow and develop into the precious young lady she was meant to be.”
Andrea Blanco7 December 2022 10:45
Bikers dressed in pink raise $9,000 for Athena’s family
A group of motorcyclists have raised thousands of dollars to help support the family of Athena Strand.
On Monday, hundreds of motorcyclists took part in a ride from Azel to Paradise, Texas, in memory of the slain seven-year-old.
Many wore pink – the little girl’s favourite colour.
Athena’s mother Maitlyn Presley Gandy, thanked the bikers in a Facebook post for singing Frozen’s Let It Go, one of Athena’s favourite songs.
Athena’s classmates, also dressed in pink, waved their little hands at the bikers, who raised nearly $9,000 for the grieving family, WFAA reported.
Organiser Francis Chamberlin said the event raised $8,775 and that he had received an outpouring of support from people all across the country.
“She didn’t deserve this,” he told WFAA. “She was young. She still had her life ahead of her. And now she’s gone.”
Andrea Blanco7 December 2022 10:00
Support pours in for Athena Strand’s family
More than $24,000 have been raised on a GoFundMe page to support the grieving family of Athena Strand.
“Our goal is to support Athena’s family in any way we can,” the description read.
“The family will be seeking justice for their little girl. This will cover attorney fees, bills while the family is in a leave of absence and cannot work, and anything else that will help them attempt to recover in this horrific time in their lives.
The seven-year-old’s murder has rocked the local community, with several vigils and tributes planned for the little girl.
Athena was abducted out of her home in Paradise, Texas on 30 November. Wise County Sheriff’s Office said that 31-year-old FedEx delivery driver Tanner Horner confessed to the abduction and murder.
On Friday, Horner reportedly led authorities to Athena’s body, which he had allegedly dumped six miles away from her home.
Andrea Blanco7 December 2022 09:15
Shocked neighbours react to Tanner Horner’s arrest
Authorities announced on Friday that FedEx delivery driver Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, was taken into custody for the murder of Athena, who went missing from her home in Paradise, Texas, on 30 November.
Wise County sheriff Lane Akin told reporters that Mr Horner confessed to killing Athena within an hour of her abduction.
Speaking to the Forth Worth Star-Telegram, neighbours of Mr Horner said that he lived with his grandmother and mother in the west Fort Worth neighbourhood and that he would leave for weeks at a time before returning home.
“I find it just shocking it was him,” a woman who asked not to be named told the outlet.
Athena’s body was found on Friday about six miles from her home. Wise County authorities said they were led to the exact location by Mr Horner.
The Independent has the story:
Andrea Blanco7 December 2022 08:30