FedEx driver may face death penalty in kidnapping, murder case of 7-year-old Texas girl

The confession from Horner came just days after Strand's death, according to a December 2 affidavit.

Tanner Horner, the former FedEx driver suspected of abducting and killing 7-year-old Texas girl Athena Strand, was formally charged for his alleged crimes on Thursday. Police have recommended the death penalty for him if convicted, as Texas is a pro-capital punishment state.

Horner, 31, was indicted for aggravated kidnapping and capital murder of a person under the age of 10 after admitting that he "panicked" after accidentally hitting the girl with his truck, prompting him to kill her, reported KWTX.

It was on November 30 when Strand went missing from her Dallas home. Her body was found seven miles away in Boyd on December 2.

Horner, a FedEx driver contracted through the company Big Topspin, confessed to abducting the girl from her front yard and killing her within the hour while delivering a package to the Strand residence. According to Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin, the victim's step-mother, Elizabeth Strand, noticed Athena was missing shortly after the delivery driver had dropped off a parcel containing Christmas Barbie dolls from her mother.

The confession from Horner came just days after Strand's death, according to a December 2 affidavit.

"The Defendant stated to Investigator Joseph Oliver and Texas Ranger Job Espinoza that he had taken Athena," the court filing reads. "The Defendant stated to investigators she was deceased. The Defendant stated, when he was backing up in his FedEx truck he accidently hit Athena with the truck, but she was not seriously injured."

According to the affidavit, Horner "panicked" and put the 7-year-old in the van while she was still alive and talking. He confessed that after failing to kill her by breaking her neck, he strangled her.

"During the course of the interview the Defendant again stated he strangled Athena because she was going to tell her father about being hit by the Fed Ex truck the Defendant was operating," the document reads. 

Prosecutors said that Horner led investigators to Strand's body, which was found in a waterway on the side of a road not far from the family's home.

According to NBC 5, police have requested the death penalty for Horner to the prosecutors.

If convicted, his only other option is life in prison, according to the Daily Mail.

As the outlet reported, Horner has also been charged with the sexual assault of a child nearly ten years ago, as well as three additional counts of sexually abusing a child in 2013. He is now in jail with bail set at $1.5 million.

Strand's mother, Maitlyn Gandy, released a statement following the indictment:

"I would like to thank the Wise County grand jury for their role in this process. Hearing the facts and circumstances of my 7-year-old daughter's kidnapping and murder was undoubtedly very difficult for them."

"I want them to know that their work is deeply appreciated," she added. "Tanner Horner's indictment is the beginning of a long road through the justice system. I appreciate everyone's continued support and for keeping Athena's name and memory alive. Please take a moment to hug your children and loved ones. No one is promised another day."

​​"I support the death penalty. In any sentencing that may come," Gandy said to WFAA.

"Every breath he takes is one my daughter doesn't. If I could sit down in front of him, I would tell him that he is nothing, but that Athena is absolutely everything - and I will make sure that everybody in this world knows that he is nothing and that she is everything," she continued, before adding that she wished Horner had left her daughter alone after allegedly hitting her with his vehicle.

"We are very forgiving people," Gandy said. "If Athena was not injured or even if she had a few bumps and scrapes, he could have just driven away. We could have forgiven him. Accidents do happen, but he chose to do more - and what he did was unforgivable."

"I have a hard time believing Athena couldn't have walked away. Athena could have just walked away, and I wish he would have let her," the heartbroken mother said.

Jacob Strand, the father of the victim, is suing FedEx, complaining that their background checks weren't sufficient enough.

In a statement after the lawsuit was launched against them, FedEx said "Our thoughts remain with the family of Athena Strand in the wake of this tragedy."

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