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Athena Strand's accused killer delivered Christmas gift day of abduction

Mother of slain child Athena Strand speaks about her daughter's death
Mother of slain child Athena Strand speaks about her daughter's death 13:57

DECATUR, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - The FedEx driver accused of killing Athena Strand was delivering a Christmas gift -- a box of 'You Can Be Anything' Barbie dolls -- for the girl the day she was reported missing.

This is the box of Barbie dolls meant for Athena Strand on Nov. 30. Her accused killer delivered them the day she was allegedly kidnapped and killed.  CBS 11 News

Standing next to the now opened box, Strand's mother, Maitlyn Gandy gave a statement about the untimely death of her daughter while standing outside the Wise County Courthouse on Dec. 8. 

"Athena was robbed of the opportunity to be anything she wanted to be.  And this present, ordered out of innocence and love is one she will never receive," Gandy said while standing alongside her attorney, Benson Varghese. 

She said the FedEx driver accused of killing her child was delivering a Christmas gift -- a box of 'You Can Be Anything' Barbie dolls -- for the girl the day she was reported missing. 

"In this present ordered out of innocence and love, my innocent, free-spirited seven year old daughter was murdered," said Gandy while holding back tears. "I was supposed to bring Athena after Christmas break. Instead she will be cremated and come home in an urn because I am not ready to let my baby go."

Tanner Lynn Horner is accused of killing Strand. The 31-year-old FedEx truck driver confessed to snatching the girl before killing her within an hour of her abduction on Nov. 30. Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said shortly before Strand's stepmother realized the child was missing, Horner had dropped off a package at their home. She was probably abducted from her driveway, according to Akin, about 200 yards away from the house.

Horner was subsequently tracked down through digital evidence, although police would not go into detail about what led them to him.

Two days later, Strand's body was found about 9 miles away from her home, southeast of Boyd. This after Horner gave detectives two false locations. 

Akin also said that Horner made a confession, but did not elaborate. There was no information about a possible motive, but authorities said Horner did not know Athena or her family.

"I was robbed of watching her grow up by a man everyone was supposed to trust to just one simple task -- deliver a Christmas present and leave," said Gandy. "She was an amazing little girl who loved singing, dancing and all animals. Dogs, horses, cats, lizards and chinchillas. She also loved school and all her friends in the first grade who are also struggling with her senseless murder. Athena also loved flowers but she wasn't afraid to get down in the mud with the boys. She was her father's daughter."

The news of Strand's kidnapping and death seemed unimaginable in Paradise, where children grow up playing in their front yards.

"We live a mile down the road. My kids were playing outside when she was taken. It does change everything. You never expected something like this," said resident Rachael Taylor.

Pink was Strand's favorite color, and those who knew her said the color matched her bright personality.

"I had never seen her not smiling. She was always very happy," said Phil Erickson, Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church Cottondale.

Varghese provided information on how the community can continue to support Strand's family during their journey through grief. 

"Our short-term efforts are focused on Athena's family; taking as much as we can off their plates so they can mourn her loss," said Varghese. 

Varghese said he intends to investigate how and why Athena was killed. He will also "hold any person or corporation accountable whose actions or inactions could have prevented this little girl's tragic death."

"I know that Athena's death will not be in vain. I will spend the rest of my life fighting for her so that no other family will endure such unbearable pain and grief," said Gandy. "A monster attempted to take her voice. But we are her voice. Screening and hiring policies must be put into place so that monsters wearing delivery uniforms don't show up on our children's doorsteps."

Horner is facing charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping. His bond was set at $1.5 million.

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