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Family ‘Devastated, Angry' After 7-Year-Old Girl Found Dead; Delivery Driver Confesses: Sheriff

NBC Dallas 12/8/2022 Ken Kalthoff and Meredith Yeomans

What to Know

  • Girl, 7, taken from her driveway by a contract delivery driver on Wednesday afternoon, investigators say.
  • Officials have arrested a 31-year-old and charged him with aggravated kidnapping and capital murder in connection with the child's abduction and death.
  • Investigators believe the girl was killed within an hour of being taken; her body was recovered Friday about 10 miles from her home and escorted by Texas Rangers to the medical examiner's office.

A delivery driver is in custody, accused of abducting and killing a 7-year-old girl who was reported missing on Wednesday and whose body was found Friday night about 10 miles from her home.

Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said during a press conference at about 10:15 p.m. Friday that authorities arrested 31-year-old Tanner Horner, of Lake Worth, a FedEx contract driver who delivered a package to 7-year-old Athena Strand’s home on Wednesday afternoon.

Akin said Friday night that Horner confessed to killing the girl and that unspecified digital evidence and interviews indicated the child was killed within an hour of her abduction.

Akin said Horner is charged with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping and is being held behind bars on bonds totaling $1.5 million.

It's not clear if Horner has obtained an attorney.

AMBER ALERT ISSUED FOR WISE COUNTY GIRL

An Amber Alert was issued Wednesday for Strand, who was reported missing after she left her home in rural Wise County.

Akin said the girl's stepmother reported the girl missing at 5:40 p.m. after the girl disappeared from her room. The stepmother searched for about an hour before contacting the sheriff's office for help.

Akin said helicopters with thermal imaging were used Wednesday night but showed no sign or presence of a child.

Hundreds of law enforcement and volunteers spent Thursday and Friday canvassing homes, hillsides and rugged terrain for any sign of the first grader, who relatives said was afraid of the dark and wouldn't have wandered off alone.

Akin said Friday night that they learned early on about a FedEx delivery that had been to the Strand's home at about the time Athena disappeared. Akin said that "thanks to good work by investigators" they believed the driver had taken Athena and worked with FedEx to identify and locate him.

Horner was taken into custody and confessed to abducting and killing the girl. He then directed officers to her body.

A large police presence was seen Friday night on County Road 4599, about seven miles from the Strand's home. Akin said Friday evening it was a false lead and that Horner led investigators to two separate locations before Athena's body was found southeast of Boyd, about 10 miles from where she was reported missing.

Akin declined to share details about Horner's confession, digital evidence, or what was found when investigators searched his home, citing the ongoing investigation. Investigators did confirm, however, that Horner was not known to the family. Akin also said that investigators believe the girl died within an hour or so after her abduction.

"We're just sad it didn't end the way that we hoped that it would end," Akin said. "It's one of the toughest investigations that I've been involved in because it's a child, and anytime there's a child dies, it hits you in your heart."

The FBI, Texas Rangers and the Wise County Sheriff's Department are among the agencies who helped bring the case to a conclusion roughly 48 hours after the child was reported missing by her stepmom.

Multiple law enforcement agencies are joining the search Thursday for missing 7-year-old Athena Strand, last seen Wednesday evening in Wise County. © Provided by NBC Dallas Multiple law enforcement agencies are joining the search Thursday for missing 7-year-old Athena Strand, last seen Wednesday evening in Wise County.
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