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Warrant: Tanner Horner strangled Athena Strand after kidnapping


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Athena Strand

A FedEx contract driver has been arrested and accused of kidnapping and killing 7-year-old Athena Strand, authorities announced Dec. 2, 2022. Click on the arrow below to read more on this developing story.

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An arrest warrant for FedEx contract driver Tanner Horner reveals that video from inside his delivery van confirmed that he kidnapped 7-year-old Athena Strand, who he is accused of murdering on Nov. 30.

The warrant, obtained Thursday by the Star-Telegram, says Horner confessed to investigators that he strangled the child to death.

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Tanner Horner, 31, faces charges of capital murder of a person under 10 years old and aggravated kidnapping in the death of Athena Strand, whose body was found Dec. 2, 2022, in Wise County, Texas. Wise County Jail

The Wise County Sheriff’s Office deputy who wrote the affidavit supporting the arrest warrant said Horner told investigators he panicked after accidentally backing into Athena with the delivery van. She was not seriously injured, Horner said, but he grabbed her and put her in the van because he was afraid she would tell her father what happened, according to the warrant.

Horner told the investigators that he first tried unsuccessfully to break the child’s neck and then strangled her and left her body in the water on the edge of the Trinity River near Boyd. Her body was recovered Dec. 2 at the location Horner gave to authorities during their interview, the warrant says.

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7-year-old Athena Strand disappeared from her Wise County home after school on Nov. 30. Family photo Facebook

Horner, 31, of Fort Worth, was arrested Dec. 2 and is being held on $1.5 million 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 told the Star-Telegram on Saturday that he and prosecutors have already discussed plans to pursue the death penalty if Horner is convicted.

It’s unclear whether Horner has an attorney.

Athena’s stepmother, Elizabeth Ashley Strand, called 911 to report her missing from their home in the 200 block of County Road 3573 in Paradise about 6:40 p.m. on Nov. 30, according to the warrant.

The stepmother and the first-grader had an argument after she got home from school that afternoon and at first investigators thought the girl might have run away, according to Akin.

The stepmother told deputies she had last seen Athena about 5:45 p.m. inside a converted storage shed that the 7-year-old and her stepsister were using as a bedroom while their father, Jacob Strand, renovated their house. Elizabeth Strand told the girl to sort through her dirty clothes for laundry and then went back into the main house to make dinner, she said.

The stepmother went back to the storage building to look for Athena about 20 or 30 minutes later and she was gone. She did not see anything out of place in the room and began looking for the child around their 6-acre property, she told the deputies.

About 6:22 p.m., Elizabeth Strand called her sister and brother-in-law, who live on the adjacent property, but they had not seen Athena. She next called Athena’s father, who was driving toward San Antonio with his father for a hunting trip, according to the warrant. Jacob Strand was somewhere south of Fort Worth when he got the call, Akin has said. Jacob Strand told his wife to call 911 and turned around to drive home, where he arrived after the deputies.

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Maitlyn Gandy gives a statement about the death of her daughter, Athena Strand, 7, at the Wise County Courthouse in Decatur on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. A FedEx Ground driver is accused of kidnapping and killing Athena on Nov. 30. Amanda McCoy amccoy@star-telegram.com

Hundreds of officers and volunteers conducted an extensive search of the area that night and the following day but did not find Athena. Investigators have said that dogs could only track her scent as far as the road and that Horner is believed to have kidnapped her at the end of the driveway, about 200 yards from the house.

Horner was there to deliver a package of Barbie dolls, intended as a Christmas present for Athena, her mother, Maitlyn Gandy, said at a news conference outside the Wise County Courthouse on Thursday. Gandy, who lives in Oklahoma, has hired Fort Worth law firm Varghese Summersett to investigate whether FedEx or anyone else should be held responsible for Athena’s death.

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During a news conference Maitlyn Gandy presented the box that was delivered on the day her daughter Athena Strand, 7, was abducted from her father’s home in rural Paradise. Inside was a Christmas present of Barbie dolls for Athena. The delivery driver, Tanner Horner, is accused of Athena’s kidnapping and murder. Amanda McCoy amccoy@star-telegram.com

FedEx has expressed its condolences to the family, attorney Benson Varghese said Thursday. FedEx Ground drivers are subject to criminal history background checks during the application process, the company said. Court records do not indicate that Horner has a prior record.

“FedEx Ground contracts with independent businesses that provide package pickup and delivery services using their own employees, vehicles and equipment,” FedEx Ground said in a prepared statement. “The employees of these service provider companies are subject to criminal history background checks as part of the driver eligibility process.”

Through the course of the investigation, authorities learned FedEx had delivered a package around the time Athena disappeared. Horner worked for Big Topspin, a contractor for FedEx Ground, according to the warrant.

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Investigators were seen surrounding a parked FedEx truck on Faith Trail in Wise County around 3:20 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, hours before they announced they had found Athena Strand’s body. Bobby Dean

Investigators worked with Big Topspin to determine which van and driver delivered the package, the warrant says. They then learned there was a video camera inside the van.

The video equipment was run by third-party Velocitor, which provided the footage to investigators. The video consists of one-minute clips, which were viewed by the FBI and showed Horner talking to Athena after he took her, the warrant says.

Horner was interviewed by a sheriff’s office investigator and a Texas Ranger, and he told them Athena was dead, according to the affidavit. Horner said Athena was alive when he took her and that she told him her name.

The driver told investigators that he decided to kill the child because she was going to tell her father about being hit by the van, the warrant states. He said he strangled her with his bare hands in the back of the van.

Autopsy results from the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office are pending.

In an interview the day after Athena’s body was found, the sheriff called the kidnapping and homicide “a crime of opportunity.” He said investigators believe Horner killed Athena within about an hour of her abduction.

This story was originally published December 8, 2022 3:20 PM.

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