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Texas House passes 'Athena Alert' bill in honor of slain 7-year-old

Athena Alert on fast track to become a law
Athena Alert on fast track to become a law 01:53

AUSTIN (CBSNewsTexas) - The Texas House unanimously passed an "Athena Alert" bill, or HB3556 on May 9, allowing law enforcement to quickly issue a regional alert when a child is missing without confirmation of an abduction. 

Athena Strand
An undated photo of 7-year-old Athena Strand, who went missing from a home in Paradise, Texas, on Nov. 30, 2022. Her body was found two days later, on Dec. 2.  Maitlyn Presley Gandy via Facebook

The legislation – named in memory of 7-year-old Athena Strand who was kidnapped and killed by former FedEx driver Tanner Lynn Horner last year – is intended to close the gap between the time a child vanishes and a statewide AMBER Alert may be issued. It would allow law enforcement to activate an alert in a regional area – within a 100-mile radius and to adjacent counties – of where a child is believed to have gone missing or was last seen.

Law enforcement will have the ability to quickly notify the local public – even if the case doesn't meet the strict criteria for a statewide AMBER Alert.

Authored by Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Sanger), the bill now heads to the Senate. It will be carried by Senators Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) and Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) in the next chamber. If passed there, it will make its way to Texas Governor Greg Abbott's desk. 

Athena's mother Maitlyn Gandy said she was surprised to see the legislation move so quickly, but that she had heard nothing but full support from everyone she had talked with about the bill.

"I think the faster we get it out there and the faster we enable law enforcement to be able use this tool, the more lives we could potentially impact and save," she said.

The proposed bill is yet another way Gandy has sought justice since her daughter's slaying at the hands of Horner on Nov. 30, 2022. 

She previously filed an 18-page wrongful death lawsuit in February seeking "fair and reasonable" compensation for "acts and omissions" that led to Strand's murder. Horner, and the contracting company that hired him, Big Topspin, were named in the suit. Athena's father, Jacob Strand filed a lawsuit in Dec. 2022, too. 

Benson Varghese, who is representing Gandy in a wrongful death lawsuit against Horner and his employers said after passage, the goal is to quickly make law enforcement aware of the option.

"We want this to be front and center of 'Hey, here's a new tool you can use'," he said. "And I think there are some organizations that cater specifically to chiefs of law enforcement so they know this tool is available for their use."

Posted by Maitlyn Presley Gandy on Thursday, April 27, 2023

Horner was charged with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.

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