The Tragic Kidnapping And Death Of Athena Strand

The following article mentions violence against children and sexual assault.

Child Find of America reports that 2,300 children go missing daily in the United States. Reuters adds that a majority of these juveniles are either runaways or have been abducted by a parent that does not have custody. Simply put, children are rarely abducted by someone they don't know. In fact, FBI data (via Reuters) suggests that only 0.1% of kidnappings are perpetrated by strangers. Disturbingly, this was the case surrounding the disappearance of 7-year-old Athena Strand (via CBS News). On November 20, 2022, The Independent writes that the little girl was abducted from Paradise, Texas by a FedEx driver.

According to People, Strand lived with her mother, Maitlyn Gandy, in Oklahoma. However, she was sent to Texas to spend the holiday break with her father and stepmother. On the day of her abduction, The Independent states that Strand had an argument with her stepmother and was last seen at 5:40 p.m. Later that evening, Strand's stepmother went to look for her, but she was gone. Per MySA, an amber alert was issued the next day, and the authorities began their search for Strand. Two days after her disappearance, Athena Strand's lifeless body was found near the Trinity River in Azle, Texas.

A suspect is arrested

The Independent reports that the authorities publicly announced the discovery of Athena Strand's body and the arrest of a suspect on the same day. According to MySA, 31-year-old FedEx contract driver Tanner Lynn Horner from Fort Worth, Texas was charged with kidnapping and murdering the young girl. CNN explains that investigators zeroed in on Horner when they realized that FedEx had made a delivery to Strand's home around the same time she had disappeared. Using this information, they traced the delivery back to Horner, who reportedly confessed to the crime and told the authorities the location of Strand's body.

Per The Independent, Horner's bail was set at $1.5 million. The publication states that he was previously a musician and an Uber driver. Prior to his arrest, Horner had a clean criminal record (via Fox 4 News). The Fort Worth Star-Telegram writes that Horner lived with his mother and grandmother. Residents near Fort Worth home told the outlet he was an unassuming man and said they were taken aback by his arrest. "You kind of forget that you never know who your neighbor is," said Crystal Guadian. Although she did not personally know Horner, Guadian notes that his FedEx van was a familiar sight.

Athena Strand's final moments

In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin referred to Athena Strand's murder as "a crime of opportunity." Horrifically, CNN reports that Tanner Lynn Horner abducted Strand as he made a delivery to her father's home. At a press conference (as seen on YouTube), Maitlyn Gandy, Strand's mother, revealed that the package was a Christmas gift for her daughter — she had sent Strand a box of Barbie dolls. At the time of this publication, the results of her autopsy have yet to be released. That said, it's believed that Horner killed Strand within an hour of her abduction.

Horner told the investigators that he had accidentally hit Strand with his FedEx van during the delivery. CBS News writes that this occurred as he was backing out of the driveway. Although she was not hurt, Horner said that he "panicked" and brought Strand inside the van. Per People, Horner stated that he was afraid of what might happen if Strand told her father about this incident. He decided that the best course of action was to kill her. Horner allegedly tried but failed to break her neck. He said he ultimately murdered Strand by strangling her with his bare hands inside of the FedEx van.

Loved ones and a community reacts to a senseless death

Shortly after Athena Strand's body was discovered, her mother, Maitlyn Gandy, spoke openly about her grief. She stated (via CNN), "Athena was robbed (of) the opportunity to be anything she wanted to be." She added, "I was robbed of watching her grow up, by a man that everyone was supposed to be able to trust to do just one simple task — deliver a Christmas present and leave." Needless to say, Strand's murder left the residents of Paradise, Texas shellshocked (per CBS News). Another article from CNN reports that the community decided to pay tribute to Strand by asking students in Texas to wear pink, her favorite color.

The Independent writes that a vigil was also held in Paradise to celebrate Strand's memory. Citizens told CBS News that they were in disbelief that a crime like this could occur in their small town. Nevertheless, one man noted that they were "looking after each other" during this incredibly difficult time. In a Facebook post, Strand's grandfather, Mark Strand, disclosed that he was enraged by Tanner Lynn Horner (via WFLA). Despite this, he opted to forgive his granddaughter's killer. He explained, "I do this to honor our precious Athena who knew no hate. This man won't be allowed any real estate to live in my brain. ... Today, I choose Love and hate loses."

Maitlyn Gandy wants FedEx to change their policies

With news of Athena Strand's death, FedEx decided to release their own statement. It read, "We share in the collective grief surrounding this heartbreaking tragedy and our thoughts remain with the family of Athena Strand. We continue to cooperate fully with the investigating authorities." According to CNN, Maitlyn Gandy (seen above) is lobbying for the corporation to alter its hiring and screening policies "so that monsters wearing delivery uniforms don't show up on our children's doorsteps." Fox 4 News adds that Gandy and her attorney, Benson Varghese, are making inquiries on how Tanner Lynn Horner was hired by FedEx in the first place.

A different article from Fox 4 News adds that in recent years, various FedEx drivers have been involved in violent crimes across the country, which only adds to the push for change. However, Gandy is not the only individual taking action against FedEx. Per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Strand's father, Jacob Strand, decided to sue the company and Big Topspin Inc., the contractor that hired Tanner Lynn Horner. WFAA explains that Jacob alleges that both entities were negligent when it came to hiring Horner. As a result, he's asking for more than $1,000,000 in damages. FedEx, on the other hand, insists that they have a thorough screening process for their drivers.

Tanner Lynn Horner was charged with sexual assault

In late December 2022, CNN reported that Tanner Lynn Horner was charged with three additional charges regarding sexual assaults that occurred in 2013. The publication notes that these charges are unrelated to Athena Strand's abduction and murder. It's alleged that Horner assaulted minors in June, August, and December of 2013. At the time of this publication, the names of the victims have not been made public. MySA explains that these charges originated from Tarrant County, Texas. 

People writes that back in 2019, a woman made a post on Facebook alleging that Horner had sexually assaulted her when she was only 16 years old. According to Newsweek, that same woman made another post shortly after Horner was arrested for killing Strand. She wrote, "Tanner Lynn Horner, the man who raped me at 16, eight years ago, murdered Athena Strand, a 7-year-old girl." She added, "I hope the family gets the justice they deserve. I hope he rots. And I hope that everyone who didn't believe me, when I've talked about this for EIGHT F****** YEARS, does now..."

Newsweek notes that the veracity of these claims cannot be confirmed. Moreover, it's unknown if this woman is one of the victims in Horner's sexual assault case. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram states that Horner's first court appearance in regard to these charges is set for January 5, 2023.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).