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New bill influenced by Athena Strand's murder passes Texas House

The bill would allow law enforcement to quickly issue a regional alert when a child goes missing without meeting AMBER Alert criteria.

AUSTIN, Texas — A bill influenced by the murder of 7-year-old Athena Strand last November has passed the Texas House overwhelmingly, making it one step closer to codifying "Athena Alerts" into law. 

The bill, HB 3556, would allow law enforcement to sidestep the requirements for a statewide AMBER Alert and instead allow them to issue a regional alert to people within a 100-mile radius of the location where the child is believed to have gone missing or was last seen. 

That way, via an "Athena Alert," the information about a missing child can be delivered to the public much faster if the case doesn't fully meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert.

"I would like to thank Rep. Stucky and other lawmakers for their support of an Athena Alert in honor of my daughter,” said Maitlyn Gandy, Athena’s mother, in a statement. "If a localized alert had been issued as soon as Athena went missing, it could have made a difference. We will never know, but I do know that I never want another parent to feel the helplessness that I felt. Law enforcement wanted to sound an alert, but under the current law’s criteria, they just couldn’t."

Gandy's attorney, Benson Varghese, called the bill "common sense legislation" which won't result in additional taxes on the public. 

“This proposed law is not intended to replace the AMBER Alert - an incredible law that has saved hundreds of children’s lives,” Varghese said in a statement. "It extends an alert system that is already in place, allowing it to be used locally during the early stages of an investigation into the disappearance of a child."

Varghese said that because it is local, they believe more people will pay closer attention to the message. 

"The sooner we can get the word out, the more likely a child can be found," he said.

The bill will now head to the Texas Senate. If passed there, it will head to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk to be signed into law. 

Strand was abducted from her home on Nov. 30 in rural Wise County and killed by a contract driver for FedEx.

The driver confessed to police that he was delivering a package to Strand's home and accidentally struck her with his vehicle, panicked, then strangled her to death in his delivery vehicle in fear of the consequences that would follow. 

The driver, Tanner Horner, then dumped Athena's body in a rural area and led investigators to the location after his capture and confession, according to investigators. He has since been indicted on capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges. 

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

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