A seven-year-old girl was found dead on Friday, two days after she was reportedly kidnapped. Athena Strand was reported missing on Wednesday, and a 31-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of abducting and killing the child.
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said during a press conference that authorities found Athena’s body southeast of Boyd, about 10 miles from where she was reported missing.
He said the family of the seven-year-old are “devastated”, and said: “It hurts our hearts to know that that child died, so much so that she is on her way now to the medical examiner’s office and there is a Texas Ranger in front of her and a Texas Ranger behind her.”
The Sheriff also added: “I spent quite a bit of time with the family. They appreciated the fact that we care so much.
“They’re devastated. They’re angry because of what happened. A precious child taken from their lives.”
An Amber alert was issued on Wednesday for the child, with the girl’s stepmother reporting the girl missing at 5.40pm after Athena disappeared from her room.
The stepmother searched for about an hour before contacting the sheriff’s office for help.
Mr Akin said helicopters with thermal imaging were used on Wednesday night but showed no sign or presence of a child.
On Friday, after two days of searching, he said officers learned early on about a FedEx delivery that had been to the Strand’s home at about the time Athena disappeared, and “thanks to good work by investigators”, they believed the driver had abducted the child.
The same day, authorities arrested 31-year-old Tanner Horner, of Lake Worth, a FedEx contract driver who delivered a package to Athena’ home.
He said Mr Horner confessed to killing the girl and that unspecified digital evidence and interviews indicated the child was killed within an hour of her abduction.
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Mr Akin added the suspect is charged with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping and is being held behind bars on bonds totalling $1.5 million.
The Sheriff declined to share details about the suspect’s confession, digital evidence, or what was found when investigators searched his home, citing the ongoing investigation.
Investigators did confirm Mr Horner was not known to the family.
Mr Akin also said that investigators believe the girl died within an hour or so after her abduction, and told reporters: “We’re just sad it didn’t end the way that we hoped that it would end.
“It’s one of the toughest investigations that I’ve been involved in because it’s a child, and anytime there’s a child dies, it hits you in your heart.”