TEXAS (KXAN) – The driver of a FedEx truck admitted to strangling and killing a 7-year-old girl in Texas after accidentally hitting her with his van while delivering a package, according to an arrest warrant. Athena Strand’s body was recovered on December 2.
Tanner Horner, 31, was arrested last week in connection with Athena’s abduction and death. He now faces charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping.
Horner reportedly told authorities he backed into the girl during a November 30 delivery and panicked, according to a warrant cited by the Associated Press. Instead of informing her father, Horner said he put the girl in his van and tried to break her neck, but strangled her when that didn’t work, the warrant said.
Maitlyn Gandy, Athena’s mother, spoke publicly Thursday morning for the first time since the 7-year-old Texas girl’s death. She told reporters that her daughter’s abduction occurred after a contract FedEx driver delivered a package containing a Christmas present for the girl to her father’s home in Paradise, Texas. Gandy shared this information while standing next to the opened package, which contained several Barbie dolls.
“Athena was robbed of the opportunity to grow up and be anything she wanted to be,” Gandy said. “This present, ordered out of innocence and love, is one she will never receive.”
Earlier this week, several school districts throughout the state encouraged their students and staff members to wear pink—Athena’s favorite color—in her honor. On Thursday morning, Gandy thanked the community for their support since Athena’s disappearance.
“I want everyone to know Athena. She was an amazing little girl who loved dancing, singing, and all animals—dogs, cats, horses, lizards, and chinchillas,” Gandy said. “She also loved school and all her friends in the first grade who are now struggling with her senseless murder.”
Gandy also said that she’d like to see better candidate screening and hiring processes put into place “so that monsters wearing delivery uniforms won’t show up on our children’s doorsteps.”
Gandy’s attorney, Benson Varghese, said during the news conference that he’s conducting a “thorough investigation” of his own into FedEx and the contractor that hired the suspect. “We will uncover every person who is responsible through their actions or inactions for the tragedy that happened,” he said.
The family’s attorney is asking anyone who knew the suspect or worked for the suspect’s employer to contact his law office and share information that may help with his investigation.
Gandy also shared a request for parents to hug their children tighter. “Athena’s death will not be in vain,” she said. “I will spend the rest of my life fighting for her so that no other family will endure such unbearable pain and grief.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.