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FedEx driver charged in 7-year-old Athena Strand’s death delivered her Christmas present before abducting her, mother says

By Stephanie Gallman and Andy Rose, CNN

The FedEx driver accused of kidnapping and killing 7-year-old Athena Strand delivered her Christmas present — Barbie dolls — before the girl’s disappearance, her mother said Thursday.

Maitlyn Gandy called for stricter screening policies for delivery drivers at a news conference.

On an easel beside her was the package, a box of “You can be anything” Barbie dolls. It was the first time she’d seen the present, she said.

“Athena was robbed (of) the opportunity to be anything she wanted to be,” a tearful Gandy said. “I was robbed of watching her grow up, by a man that everyone was supposed to be able to trust to do just one simple task — deliver a Christmas present and leave.”

Athena disappeared from the driveway of her home in Wise County, Texas, on November 30. After a county-wide search, her body was recovered Friday evening, according to Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin. Authorities believe she was killed within an hour of her alleged kidnapping, but her cause of death is still under investigation, Akin said Friday.

The suspect, identified by authorities as a contract driver for FedEx, is 31-year-old Tanner Lynn Horner, Akin said. He allegedly delivered a package to Athena’s father’s home when she disappeared, authorities said.

Horner is being held in Wise County jail on capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges, according to its website. Bond was set at $1.5 million, Akin said. CNN has repeatedly tried to locate an attorney for Horner, to no avail.

Warrant: Driver was afraid Athena would get him in trouble

Horner told investigators he had accidentally hit Athena as he was backing up his delivery truck and although she was not seriously injured, he panicked and put her in the van before allegedly killing her, according to two arrest warrants obtained by CNN affiliate KTVT.

According to the warrants, one issued for each charge, Horner told authorities that he strangled the child because “she was going to tell her father about being hit by the Fed Ex truck.”

Horner was tracked down by his employer, a subcontractor of FedEx, after authorities learned Athena went missing around the time a FedEx delivery was made to the home, according to the warrants. Surveillance video from the truck showed the child inside, talking to the driver, according to the warrants.

After he was questioned, Horner led investigators to the child’s body and surrendered without incident, according to a warrant.

Akin, the sheriff, did not respond to CNN’s messages Thursday afternoon.

Authorities said Horner did not know the family or the child, Akin previously said.

Mother pushes for change in hiring policies

Gandy said her goal is to effect change in hiring policies “so that monsters wearing delivery uniforms don’t show up on our children’s doorsteps.”

Her attorney, Benson Varghese, said he is still in the “investigation phase” of Athena’s case. Varghese said his office has put people they “think might be responsible” on notice, asking them to preserve any evidence related to the investigation.

Varghese said he plans to hold any person or corporation accountable “whose actions or inactions could have prevented this little girl’s tragic death,” but said he is not in a rush to file a lawsuit.

“The ultimate goal here is to ensure that no parent, or grandparent, or family member feels the loss that Maitlyn’s going through right now,” Varghese said.

In a statement to CNN last week, FedEx expressed its sympathies and directed further questions to law enforcement.

“Words cannot describe our shock and sorrow at the reports surrounding this tragic event. First and foremost, our thoughts are with the family during this most difficult time, and we continue to cooperate fully with the investigating authorities,” the statement reads.

Earlier this week, several school districts across Texas wore pink in honor of Athena.

Gandy, who appeared at Thursday’s news conference sporting bright pink hair, said she was grateful for the community’s outpouring of love and support.

“I have felt your prayers, I have read your messages and your letters and I see your pink everywhere.”

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Dave Alsup, Rebekah Riess, Monique Smith and Amanda Jackson contributed to this report.

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