A Texas FedEx driver accused of abducting and strangling a seven-year-old girl he kidnapped from her Dallas home has been formally charged with murder and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Tanner Horner, 31, told investigators he accidentally hit Athena Strand with his truck on November 30, “paniced,” and then grabbed her and put her in his vehicle.
Fearing what would happen if he told her parents, he strangled her in the truck and dumped her body next to a country road seven miles from her home. She was found on December 2nd.
A Wise County jury formally charged Horner with kidnapping and murdering the young girl on Friday.
Police have told prosecutors they want to seek the death penalty, according to NBC5. If convicted, Horner faces either execution or life imprisonment.
Tanner Horner (pictured right), 31, told investigators Athena Strand (pictured left) was not seriously injured after he hit her while reversing, but he panicked and put her in his van. He said she was talking to him and told him her name
Strand’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy, released a statement on the charges.
“I would like to thank the Wise County Grand Jury for their role in this process. Learning the facts and circumstances surrounding the kidnapping and murder of my 7 year old daughter was undoubtedly very difficult for her.’
“I want them to know that their work is greatly appreciated,” she added. “The indictment of Tanner Horner is the beginning of a long journey through the justice system. I appreciate everyone’s continued support and for keeping Athena’s name and memory alive. Please take a moment to hug your children and loved ones. No one is promised another day.’
Horner was charged with the sexual abuse of a child nearly a decade ago and is facing three more child sexual abuse counts in Fort Worth in 2013. He is in prison on $1.5 million bail.
Athena’s father, Jacob Strand, has taken legal action against FedEx, claiming they did not conduct adequate background checks before hiring Horner.
“I support the death penalty. In every possible conviction,” Gandy told WFAA.
“Every breath he takes is one my daughter doesn’t take.
“If I could sit in front of him, I would tell him that he is nothing, but that Athena is absolutely everything – and I will make sure everyone in this world knows that he is nothing and that she is everything.”
Strand’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy (pictured right), released a statement on the charges
In her first television interview, Maitlyn Gandy, Athena Strand’s mother, reflected on her daughter’s life and her hope for justice for her killer
Athena was kidnapped by FedEx driver Tanner Horner on Nov. 30 from her father’s home in Paradise, Texas, police say
Maitlyn Gandy hugs other children during a memorial service earlier this month
The seven-year-old was buried in a bright pink coffin at a private funeral service. Gandy, 26, said her late daughter Athena will be cremated and “come home in an urn because I’m nowhere near letting my baby go”.
Maitlyn Gandy posted photos of her eaten daughter Athena’s pink coffin on her Facebook page
Gandy says she wishes he had just driven away and let her daughter go.
“We are very forgiving people,” she said.
“If Athena hadn’t been injured or even had a few bruises and scrapes, he could have just driven away. We could have forgiven him.
“Accidents happen, but he chose to do more – and what he did was unforgivable.
“I have a hard time believing that Athena couldn’t have walked away. Athena could have just walked away and I wish he would have let her.”
Gandy says she’s still grieving for her daughter while still trying to care for her younger sister, Rilyn.
“I check my doors three times every night and hold my three year old tighter. I’m afraid to let her go. Everything is just very, very scary and very, very sad,” Gandy said through tears.
“It was tough for our family. For my other three year old. She doesn’t understand why she can’t call “sissy” or why she hasn’t come home yet. It’s a long time for her without seeing her sister,” she explains.
“We’ll manage. We try to function. It was long ago. Hard, but at the same time very messy.
‘I’m sad. I am angry. I’m confused. I give my best.
“I was very scared and I don’t sleep very often or for long periods. Noises at night scare me.”
“I check my doors three times every night and hold my three year old tighter. I’m afraid to let her go. Everything is just very, very scary and very, very sad,” Gandy said through tears
Gandy is seen with her daughters Athena and Rilyn
Horner’s FedEx truck is pictured killing the little girl
Gandy says one of the hardest moments she endured was seeing her little girl’s face for the last time as she laid her to rest at her funeral.
“I was the last one to see her face,” she said.
“I closed her coffin before her father, uncle and grandfather carried her out. I just held her hand and kissed her and told her how sorry I was and how much I love her.
‘That was the last time I saw her.’
Although Athena’s body was placed in the coffin for the funeral service, Gandy brought her cremated remains home in an urn because she said she was “not anywhere near ready to let my baby go”.
In a brief statement, FedEx said they were clear of the lawsuit, adding: “Our thoughts remain with Athena Strand’s family following this tragedy.”