A FedEx Ground driver has been arrested and is facing capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges after the body of 7-year-old Athena Strand was found Friday evening less than 10 miles from her home in Paradise, Texas.
During a news conference late Friday, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said that Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, of Fort Worth, Texas, confessed to abducting Strand and told authorities where to find the young girl’s body near Boyd, Texas, two days after authorities say he delivered a package to her home.
“We knew early on in the investigation that there had been a FedEx driver [who] made a delivery in front of the house about the same time that 7-year-old Athena came up missing,” Akin said during the news conference.
Akin said his officers, the Texas Rangers and the FBI used digital evidence and interviews to estimate that Strand died shortly after she was abducted from her home Wednesday.
The Texas Department of Public Safety issued an Amber Alert for Athena Strand on Thursday, a day after her stepmother reported the girl missing from her home around 5:45 p.m. on Wednesday.
“We think Athena died within just a very hour or so after her departure from her home,” Akin said.
Assistance from FedEx Ground was also crucial in locating Horner on Friday, according to James Dwyer, FBI special agent in charge of the Dallas field office.
“We were able to work through that digital evidence and through partnerships with FedEx in order to help assist with locating him [Horner] and finding him this afternoon,” Dwyer said during the news conference.
FedEx Ground spokesperson Meredith Miller sent a statement to FreightWaves on Saturday, saying, “Our thoughts remain with the family of Athena Strand during this most difficult time. Words cannot express our shock and sorrow surrounding this tragic event and we continue to cooperate fully with the investigating authorities.”
Late Friday, investigators didn’t know if the suspect had a prior criminal history. However, Miller said FedEx Ground contractors are subject to criminal background checks as part of the hiring process.
“FedEx Ground contracts with independent businesses that provide package pickup and delivery services using their own employees, vehicles and equipment,” Miller said. “The employees of these service provider companies are subject to criminal history background checks as part of the driver eligibility process.”
The cause of Athena’s death remains under investigation, Akin said. He added that her body, escorted by two Texas Rangers, was taken to the medical examiner’s office Friday.
Horner remained in the Wise County Jail on Saturday with his bond set at $1.5 million.
“It’s one of the toughest investigations that I’ve been involved in because it’s a child, and anytime there’s a child that dies, it just hits you in your heart,” Akin said
This is a developing story.
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