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Athena Strand: Missing 7-year-old's body found two days after going missing in Wise County, police say

Police had been looking for the missing Wise County girl for almost two days and put out an AMBER Alert. She was first reported missing on Wednesday evening.

PARADISE, Texas — Update at 10:56 p.m. on December 2, 2022: The body of 7-year-old Athena Strand has been found, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said at a press conference on Friday night, and a suspect is in custody. 

Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, confessed to police to abducting and killing Athena Wednesday afternoon, Akin said. Horner, who was working as a contract FedEx truck driver, had been delivering a package to Athena's family home when she was allegedly abducted. 

More details here.

Update at 7:27 a.m. on December 3, 2022: 

FedEx released the following statement on Saturday: 

“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. At this time, any further questions should be directed to law enforcement.”

FedEx also released this statement on Twitter on Saturday morning: 

"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."

Athena Strand's mother, Maitlyn Gandy, shared this GoFundMe fundraiser with WFAA.

Original story follows.

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Wise County investigators provided a major update to the Athena Strand case on Friday night.

At a press conference in Cottondale, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin announced that the missing 7-year-old's body was found, deceased, on Friday evening to the southeast of Boyd.

Wise said the girl had been abducted by a contract driver with FedEx.

Watch the press conference in full below:

Police had closed off a stretch of County Road 4599 on Friday evening, just less than 10 miles from Athena's home -- but authorities left the scene after a few hours and re-opened the road. 

WFAA spoke with Akin soon afterward, asking him whether anyone had been detained in the investigation of the 7-year-old Athena's disappearance, and if it was connected to that road closure, but Akin did not provide a comment. 

Akin did not explain what was happening in the area, or if anything had been found concerning the investigation.

It's been two days since Athena was last seen, and Wise County deputies are still searching for the missing girl.

An AMBER Alert was issued Thursday afternoon, describing Strand as "endangered" and saying she was last seen wearing a gray/black long-sleeve shirt, blue jeans with flowers on the front pockets and brown boots.

Earlier Friday, Akin said Athena's stepmother first called police at about 6:40 p.m. on Wednesday after noticing she wasn't in her room at the house her father owns. 

Foul play isn't suspected at this time, police said. But they also add that it hasn't been ruled out. 

Child Protective Services confirmed to WFAA that they have never had any cases involving Athena. However, sources told WFAA that CPS has visited the home prior to investigate the stepmother and another child. 

Police said Athena first got off her school bus at her father's home at about 4:15 p.m. Wednesday. Her father wasn't home when Athena went missing; he was on his way to a deer hunting trip. 

Athena's stepmother told police she and Strand got into an argument at some point, which Akin said the stepmother told police wasn't unusual for their relationship. 

When the stepmother went to make dinner, police said, that's when she went to find Athena in her room and realized she wasn't in the house.

After searching for Athena for an hour, the stepmother called 911, prompting a police search that began along with EMS and volunteer firefighters. Search dogs were also used Wednesday night along with thermal imaging from the air, but only wildlife was seen.

The search was called off at about 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, then restarted a few hours later with about 200 citizens joining in to comb the area. Still, nothing was found -- not Athena, nor any evidence. About 50 acres have been searched in total since the search began.

Akin said registered sex offenders in the area have been interviewed as part of the investigation as well. 

At one point, search dogs found a scent around the house, but nothing outside of the perimeter. 

The FBI, Texas DPS, U.S. Marshals and Texas Rangers are also assisting in the search and investigation, with the FBI using digital resources to look at things like cell phone data and social media posts. 

As the second day of searching for missing Wise County 7-year-old Athena Strand continues, a massive police presence has arrived along a stretch of County Road 4599, less than 10 miles from her family's home.

Credit: WFAA
An overhead view of the police presence along CR4599 in Wise County as police search for missing 7-year-old Athena Strand.

It is not yet clear why the police have gathered in this location, but it appeared on the scene as if law enforcement officials were investigating a ditch along the side of the road, which it had closed off to through-traffic with police tape.

Police said the father and stepmother are cooperating with their investigation. Akin said they are acting "appropriately" to the situation. 

But Athena's mother Maitlyn Gandy and her sister (and Athena's aunt) Keeland Kulbeth said things aren't adding up right now, and that Athena wouldn't just wander off. 

Athena has wandered off before, they said, but it was never serious; she was always found quickly after it happened. They said she's gone to neighbors' houses in the country to visit as well. 

Kulbeth said that, from what she had been told, Athena may have been upset at her father for leaving to go hunting. 

"We definitely don't believe Athena ran off," Kulbeth said. "We’re not sure if she’s been abducted. We just want everyone to keep an eye out and bring her home to us."

Kulbeth described Athena as a very loving and friendly kid who loves people and flowers. 

"She's a girly-girl," Kulbeth said. "I just can't see her running away." 

Kulbeth said she and Athena often ride horses together, which they were planning to do this weekend in Comanche, Oklahoma, along with seeing a Christmas parade.

"We take her to see movies, and we're ready for her to come home," Kulbeth said. "I just want her home and safe where I can physically see her... I'm scared and I'm hoping that we find her because I wouldn't want anyone to be in this situation right now."

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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