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FedEx driver charged with kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Athena Strand in North Texas

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The body of 7-year-old Athena Strand was found Friday night in Wise County, and a contracted FedEx driver was arrested and charged with kidnapping and killing her, authorities said.

The suspect, Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, is from Lake Worth. He is in the Wise County jail and faces charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping. Authorities said he confessed to the crime.

Horner was making a delivery outside Athena’s home at the time of her disappearance on Wednesday, leading authorities to investigate him, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said. FedEx has cooperated with the investigation, which includes the FBI and the Texas Rangers.

The sheriff said investigators believe Athena was killed within an hour of her abduction. Authorities have not said exactly where her body was found, but it was a few miles from her home.

“It hurts our hearts to know that this child is dead,” the sheriff said, becoming emotional at times during a news conference shortly after 10 p.m.

The sheriff would not discuss any possible motive for the kidnapping and murder.

Athena’s disappearance shook this rural community northwest of Fort Worth. Hundreds of volunteers have participated in the search over the past two days, and the case has drawn national attention.

Earlier Friday, at an afternoon news conference, the sheriff said authorities had narrowed the search for the child and were focusing more on the investigation. Investigators seemed to remain hopeful that she would be found, but the tone of their update to reporters seemed grim.

Late in the day, a large number of law enforcement appeared to be concentrated on County Road 4599 between Boyd and Cottondale, less than 10 miles from Athena’s home. Officers appeared to be searching in a ditch, but authorities cleared the scene and left around 7 p.m. without saying if they found anything, WFAA reported.

Athena’s body was found a few miles from that site, the sheriff said.

At Friday’s 2 p.m. press conference, Akin said, “I hope we can find Athena and bring her back alive and well, but it’s all about possibilities and we have to look at everything.”

A thorough search within a five-mile radius Wednesday and Thursday found no trace of the missing child. The sheriff said earlier Friday that the investigation found no evidence of foul play or kidnapping.

Watch a live stream of the 2pm update from our content partners at WFAA below.

The girl’s mother-in-law reported Athena missing to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office at 6:40 p.m. Wednesday, after the family searched for her for about an hour, Akin said.

Akin said Athena’s stepmother and father, with whom she was staying in North Texas County, were cooperating with the investigation, as was her mother, who lives in Oklahoma.

Akin said at Friday’s press conference that Athena arrived home as usual on the school bus around 4:15 p.m. Wednesday. The first information investigators received from the stepmother, “which may still be accurate”, is that she and the child “had a little argument”, which was not unusual and that the daughter s is remote, said the sheriff.

“Athena got mad and left, like she did in the past,” but her mother-in-law said she “expected her to come back,” Akin said.

But Athena’s stepmother told the sheriff’s office that she went to her stepdaughter’s room around 5:30 p.m. and was not there, the Wise County Messenger reported.

The stepmother was the only adult at home when the girl went missing, according to the sheriff’s office. His father was driving to South Texas to go deer hunting and was somewhere south of Fort Worth when his wife called to tell him Athena was gone, Akin said.

Athena was last seen at her father’s home in the 200 block of County Road 3573 in Paradise. Akin said he was unaware of any previous calls home.

Deputies and other first responders arrived at the rural property about 14 minutes after the 911 call and conducted an initial search inside and under the home and on the six acres belonging to the family, the office said. sheriff.

They searched until 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning, then returned at 7 a.m. for a thorough search, Akin said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety issued an Amber Alert for Athena on Thursday afternoon, describing her as endangered. The Amber Alert says “law enforcement believes the safety and health of the child is at risk.”

Authorities searched both the exterior and interior of all buildings in the immediate area. Athena “wasn’t dressed very warmly,” Akin said. “We have a lot of concerns. The longer it lasts, the more we worry. »

The Texas Department of Public Safety, FBI, US Marshals Service and other area police and fire departments assisted in the search and investigation. Hundreds of community volunteers were involved on Thursday “walking side by side through the brush” in coordinated patterns, Akin said.

Authorities said the volunteers were not needed on Friday and should not continue to show up unless requested by the county emergency management office.

The researchers used helicopters equipped with thermal cameras, drones, horses, dogs and ATVs.

“From the beginning, it was a search accompanied by an investigation,” Akin said on Friday. “It is now a transition to inquiry accompanied by research.”

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