The rural community of Paradise, Texas, came together Monday night to mourn the loss of a 7-year-old Athena Strand, whose body was found two days after she was reported missing. Police said a 31-year-old delivery driver was arrested in connection with her death.
Neighbors on Monday tied bows and balloons to their homes in memory of Strand, who loved the color pink.
Wise County Sheriff’s deputies said Strand was taken from the driveway of her home last Wednesday. After an extensive search, her body was found Friday.
“It hurts our hearts to know that that child died,” said Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin.
Investigators said Tanner Lynn Horner, a contract worker for FedEx, delivered a package to the house at about the same time Strand disappeared and took him into custody. Horner allegedly confessed to the kidnapping and killing of the girl, officials said.
Over the weekend, FedEx issued a statement saying, “Our thoughts are with the family of Athena Strand during this most difficult time.”
Strand’s grandfather posted a statement on Facebook, saying in part, “I want 5 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.”
Phile Erickson, the associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Cottondale in Paradise, whose son was in Strand’s class at school, said the tragedy is “a good wake-up call to parents just in general just to be more aware of everything … And so, you know, just keep loving them. Hug them tighter.”
Horner had no criminal history. He’s being held on capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges with a bond set for $1.5 million.
FBI statistics show stranger abductions are rare and account for less than 1% of all kidnappings in 2021.