FedEx Driver Charged With Murder After 7-Year-Old Went Missing From Outside Her Texas Home
On Nov. 30, 2022, Athena Strand went missing from her front yard. Two days later, her body was found and 31-year-old Tanner Lynn Horner was charged with her murder.
On Dec. 2, 2022, two days after 7-year-old Athena Strand went missing outside her Paradise, Texas home, her dead body was found around seven miles from where she lived.
On the afternoon she went missing, Athena had gotten off her school bus around 4:15 p.m. She spent some time with her stepmother but later when the stepmother went to get Athena for dinner, she found that the child was not home.
After an hour of searching for the little girl, Athena’s stepmother called 911 around 6:40 p.m. and reported the child missing, according to The New York Times. Police were at the home within 15 minutes, and they quickly issued an Amber Alert.
A search was organized, and around 200 volunteers and multiple law enforcement agencies participated in the search. Search dogs and a helicopter with thermal imaging were used to try to find Athena as well. The search ended tragically on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, when Athena was found dead around seven miles from where she lived with her dad and stepmom. Her body was discovered along the Trinity River, according to Lane Akin, the Wise County sheriff.
A tip helped police identify 31-year-old suspect Tanner Lynn Horner, a contract driver for FedEx, reported PEOPLE. He was making deliveries in the child’s neighborhood when he abducted her. He confessed to killing her, and he told police where to find her body.
Horner told police that he accidentally hit Strand with his truck on Nov. 30 and after she said she was going to tell her father about the minor accident, he got scared and killed the girl with his bare hands.
Sheriff Akin said that authorities knew early on that a FedEx driver made a delivery in front of the house about the same time that Athena disappeared. It’s believed that she was killed within an hour of the abduction. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, it was a crime of opportunity. The driver didn’t know the child, and she hadn’t been hit by the truck.
In February 2023, Horner was indicted on a capital murder charge. Prosecutors announced they plan to seek the death penalty in the capital murder case.
On March 6, 2023, Horner pleaded not guilty during his capital murder arraignment hearing.
FedEx addressed the tragedy, stating on Twitter, “Our thoughts are with the family of Athena Strand during this most difficult time. Words cannot describe our shock and sorrow surrounding this tragic event. We continue to cooperate fully with the investigating authorities.”
Mark Strand, Athena’s grandfather, posted to his Facebook page about his grief. He spoke about his anger towards the killer and his struggle to forgive, ultimately concluding that he did forgive. After pointing out that Athena knew no hate, he said that he chooses love and hate loses.
The community joined together as they mourned Athena. CNN reported that more than 20 school districts in Texas, including Paradise Independent School District in the county where Strand went missing, encouraged students and faculty to wear pink in honor of Athena on Monday, Dec. 5. Wise County Judge J.D. Clark also encouraged residents to join in and wear pink. These acts of remembrance spread as Athena’s neighbors tied pink bows and balloons to their homes, according to CBS News.
Horner remains in the Wise County Jail on six bonds totaling $1,560,000. Horner is also being held on four charges of sexual assault of a child dating back to 2013 unrelated to the Strand case.
*This article was originally published on December 6, 2022 and was updated on March 7, 2023.