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Hundreds gather in downtown Decatur to pray for Athena Strand's family

The event was organized by Wise County Judge J.D. Clark, who tearfully addressed the crowd about Strand's death Monday night.

DECATUR, Texas — Hundreds gathered in front of the Wise County courthouse to pray for the family of Athena Strand on Monday night, just days authorities said the girl was abducted and murdered by a FedEx driver outside her rural home in Paradise. 

The suspect is in custody, facing a capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charge. 

A week ago, many in the crowd didn't know Athena's name or that her favorite color was pink

But so many donned that same color with the little girl's name on it Monday night. A week later, everyone knows the 7-year-old's name. 

Wise County Judge J.D. Clark organized the event. Clark tearfully addressed the crowd while talking about Athena's death, which sent a tremor through the rural corner of North Texas. 

"We've never had to get together for something like this," Clark said. "I feel shocked, and I feel angry. I didn't know Athena, but I love her. Our default setting as humans for kids is to love them. You don't know my girls, but I hope that you love them." 

"We're going to stick together and show people who are evil... not in our county and not our kids." 

Robyn Gibson, the assistant superintendent of Paradise ISD, attended the prayer event. 

She told WFAA that she knew Athena, who had only been a first grader in the district for a semester. 

"She had a spark about her and was a free-spirited little girl," Gibson said. 

"There was no enemy with Athena. She was friends with everyone." 

Clark led all who gathered in prayer just after 6:30 p.m. 

"God, we pray for you to bless and love little Athena--who should still be walking in Wise County tonight," Clark said. 

Another vigil will be held for Athena on Tuesday night outside the First Baptist Church of Cottondale, which served as an incident command and refuge for Athena's family as hundreds looked for her. 

A church service will also be held. 

Paradise and Decatur will play basketball Tuesday night and donations will be accepted for Athena's family at the game.

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