7-year-old kidnapped, killed by delivery driver, sheriff says

WISE COUNTY, Texas — Authorities arrested a contract FedEx delivery driver on Friday after officials said he confessed to kidnapping and killing a 7-year-old girl reported missing on Wednesday.

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Athena Strand was reported missing by her stepmother Wednesday, about two hours after she returned home from school, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said. Authorities and hundreds of volunteers subsequently spent hours combing the area around her home in hopes of finding signs of her.

At a news conference late Friday, Akin said officials learned early in their investigation that a FedEx delivery was made around the time Athena went missing. He said authorities later got a tip to investigate the driver, identified as 31-year-old Tanner Lynn Horner.

“(Investigators) were able to determine that the driver abducted Athena,” Akin said, adding that officials believe she was kidnapped close to the gate at the end of the family’s driveway. Authorities believe that Athena was killed about an hour after being abducted.

Investigators do not believe that Horner knew Athena or her family. Akin confirmed that the 31-year-old confessed to the killing, though he declined to go into detail.

In a statement obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a spokeswoman for FedEx said, “Words cannot describe our shock and sorrow at the reports surrounding this tragic event. First and foremost, our thoughts are with the family during this most difficult time, and we continue to cooperate fully with the investigating authorities.”

Akin said that a majority of Athena’s family is from Oklahoma.

“They want you to know that … they appreciated the fact that we cared so much,” Akin said. “They’re devasted. They’re angry because of what happened — a precious child taken from their lives.”

Akin said Friday that the investigation was “one of the toughest … that I’ve been involved in because it’s a child, and anytime there’s a child that dies, it just hits you in the heart.”

“You compare that child to your own children when they were that age and it just takes the wind out of your sails,” he said, though he added that it also made him more determined to solve the case.

Horner faces charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping. He was being held in jail Saturday on a $1.5 million bond, records show.