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Mother of slain North Texas girl sues FedEx, contractor and accused killer

According to an arrest affidavit, a FedEx truck driver told police he abducted and killed the 7-year-old after accidentally hitting her while backing up.

WISE COUNTY, Texas — The mother of Athena Strand, the North Texas 7-year-old who was abducted and killed last year in Wise County, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against FedEx, the contracting company Big Topspin, and the suspect, Tanner Horner, according to documents obtained by WFAA.

The 18-page lawsuit, filed in Wise County, seeks “fair and reasonable”   compensation for “acts and omissions” that led to the murder of Maitlyn Gandy's daughter. 

"This lawsuit is about Athena Strand – a vibrant young girl who deserves to have her memory live on for the good she brought to the world," the lawsuit states. "It is about a life that was taken senselessly – a child who could have been any of ours. It is about a loss that could have and should have been prevented. It is about implementing better hiring, training and supervising practices to prevent vicious killers from arriving at our doorsteps bearing an insignia that has been cultivated to instill trust. It is about preventing billion-dollar organizations from insulating themselves from liability by using fly-by-night contractors instead of acknowledging the responsibility they bear when we trust them to come onto our property, to our doorsteps, and even inside our homes."

Tanner Horner, 31, is accused of abducting and killing Strand on Nov. 30, 2022. Strand's body was found on Dec. 2. 

Police said Horner told them he had accidentally hit Athena with his truck while he was backing up. According to the arrest affidavit, Horner said Strand was not seriously injured in that collision but said he panicked just the same and put her in the van.

The affidavit also said that Horner further told investigators Strand was talking to him after she was hit, even telling him her name. Once inside the van, the affidavit said, Horner told police he tried to break Athena's neck -- and when that didn't work, he told police, he strangled her with his bare hands in the back of the van. 

Horner told police multiple times he strangled Athena because she was going to tell her father about being hit by the FedEx truck Horner was driving, the affidavit stated. 

WFAA reached out to FedEx and Big Topspin for comment on the lawsuit. Topspin hasn't responded, but FedEx responded to WFAA's request, saying "Our thoughts remain with the family of Athena Strand in the wake of this tragedy. We are aware of the complaint filed against FedEx Ground."

Strand's father sued FedEx and Big Topspin in December over his daughter's death. FedEx in a statement in response to the lawsuit in December told WFAA:

"Our thoughts remain with the family of Athena Strand in the wake of this tragedy. We are aware of the complaint filed against FedEx Ground."

Across the country, FedEx relies on its 6,000 contractors that provide package pickup and delivery services using their employees. 

In a statement in December, FedEx officials said: "The employees of these service provider companies are subject to criminal history background checks as part of the driver eligibility process. As is common across the industry and considered standard employment practice, the background check process is administered by a third party."

Horner is currently being held in the Wise County jail and has a $1.5 million bond. 

Horner also faces three additional charges of sexual assault of a child, unrelated to Strand's case. Those charges stem from three incidents in 2013. It is unclear if the charges are related to the same person or three separate people.

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