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Man accused of abducting, killing 7-year-old Athena Strand was delivering her Christmas present, mom reveals

“I was robbed of watching her grow up by a man that everyone was supposed to be able to trust to do just one simple task, to deliver a Christmas present and leave."

WISE COUNTY, Texas — The mother of 7-year-old Athena Strand, who was abducted and killed by a FedEx driver last week, spoke to the public Thursday about the case against the suspect.

Maitlyn Gandy was joined by her family, and their attorney as she shared memories about her daughter. A little girl who enjoyed playing with animals, dancing, singing and school.

Gandy said her daughter’s favorite holiday was Christmas. And sadly, it was revealed that at the time of the 7-year-old’s abduction, the man accused in her murder, 31-year-old Tanner Horner, was delivering her a part of her Christmas present – Barbie dolls.

The now opened package was set out on display, along with the hashtag #AnswersforAthena, as Gandy spoke. 

“I was robbed of watching her grow up by a man that everyone was supposed to be able to trust to do just one simple task, to deliver a Christmas present and leave,” she said.

Gandy tearfully choked up as she said Strand would never get to take part in Christmas traditions and open gifts with her three younger siblings, who now have to move on without her.

Gandy once again thanked the Wise County community for the outpouring of love and support to her and her family.

“From the moment Athena went missing, this community flew into action, and they have not stopped,” Gandy said. “I have felt your prayers, I have read your messages and your letters, and I see your pink everywhere.”

Gandy told the public she would spend the rest of her life fighting for Strand so that no other family would have to feel the same pain.

Horner confessed to police that he abducted and killed Strand, the Wise County Sheriff's Office said. Her body was found Friday, Dec. 2. She had been missing since Wednesday, Nov. 30 and authorities issued an AMBER Alert on Dec. 1.

Horner is currently being held in a single cell at the Wise County Law Enforcement Center, officials say. His bond has been set at $1.5 million.

“A monster attempted to take Athena’s voice, but we are her voice,” Gandy said. “Screening and hiring policies must be put into place so that monsters wearing delivery uniforms don’t show up on our children’s doorsteps.”

The family’s attorney, Benson Varghese, said the case against Horner is still in the investigation phase, including not just what FedEx’s responsibility is but anyone else who is involved that led to this tragedy.

“The ultimate goal here is to ensure that no parent or grandparent or family member feels the loss that Maitlyn is going through right now,” Varghese said. “So wherever that investigation takes us and whoever we find responsible are people that are going to have to face a reckoning.”

Varghese said he wholeheartedly agrees with the Wise County sheriff's decision to ask the Wise County District Attorney to seek the death penalty against Horner. 

“They are doing what the community wants. And it is undoubtedly appreciated by everyone in this community and certainly, Maitlyn and the family."

Varghese is asking if any community members have any information that may be helpful to the investigation to reach out to his office at 817-203-2220.

Watch the full press conference below: 


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