A FedEx driver accused of kidnapping and then killing a 7-year-old girl in Texas told authorities that he strangled her after accidentally hitting her with his van while making a delivery at her home, according to an arrest warrant.
Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, told authorities that Athena Strand was not seriously injured when he hit her while backing up his vehicle, the Wise County Messenger reported.
Strand was reported missing by her stepmother on Nov. 30, about two hours after she returned home from school in the city of Paradise, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said. She was found dead two days later.
The arrest affidavit, which was released Thursday, stated that Horner panicked and put the girl in his van. Strand was talking to Horner and told him her name, according to The Associated Press.
“(Horner) stated he attempted to break Athena’s neck to kill her,” the Messenger reported, citing the warrant. “(Horner) stated, when he attempted to break Athena’s neck it did not work, so he strangled (her) with his bare hands in the back of the FedEx van.”
According to the affidavit, Horner told investigators that he strangled the child “because she was going to tell her father about being hit by the FedEx truck the defendant was operating,” the Messenger reported.
Horner then allegedly dumped Strand into a body of water, KTVT reported. He eventually led investigators to the location, according to the television station.
Horner was identified as the driver of a FedEx truck at a contracting company that was equipped with video recording by a third-party vendor, The Dallas Morning News reported. An FBI employee viewed the one-minute video clips and said he saw the driver had taken a girl who looked like Strand in his van, the affidavit stated.
Maitlyn Gandy, the child’s mother, spoke in front of the Wise County courthouse in Decatur on Thursday, the Morning News reported. She stood next to the package she said the driver delivered before her daughter was abducted: a Christmas present for Strand.
“Athena was robbed of the opportunity to grow up to be anything she wanted,” Gandy told reporters. “And this present, ordered out of innocence and love, is one she will never receive.”
Gandy said that her daughter had been set to be with her in Oklahoma after the Christmas break, the AP reported.
“Now, instead, Athena will be cremated and she will come home in an urn because I’m not even, I’m not anywhere close to being ready to let my baby go,” she said.
“She was her father’s daughter,” who loved to play in the mud with boys, Gandy said.
“I ask everyone to hold your littles just a little tighter for me,” she added.
Horner was arrested last week on charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping, according to the AP. He remained jailed Thursday, and his bail was set at $1.5 million.
If convicted, Horner faces the death penalty, KTVT reported.
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