On December 8, Thursday, Athena Strand's mother revealed that the FedEx driver implicated in the 7-year-old's murder had been delivering Christmas gifts to the Strand family home at the time of the abduction.
Maitlyn Gandy, the biological mother of the murder victim, said that Athena Strand had been staying with her father in Paradise, Texas, at the time of the killing. Gandy said she expected her daughter to return to her Oklahoma home for Christmas break.
“Now, instead, Athena will be cremated and she will come home in an urn because I’m not even, I’m not anywhere close to being ready to let my baby go."
The primary suspect in the murder is Tanner Lynn Horner, a freelance contractor who worked for FedEx. The New York Post reported that Horner had been delivering Barbie dolls to the victim's family home before kidnapping her in what was described by Texas authorities as a crime of opportunity.
Horner has been charged with aggravated kidnapping and capital murder.
Athena Strand's mother comments on the case
At the official Press conference, Maitlyn Gandy said that she only saw the dolls delivered to Athena Strand after the young girl was found murdered.
“Athena was robbed of the opportunity to grow up to be anything she wanted to be. And this present ordered out of innocence and love is one she will never receive."
She added that Christmas had been Strand's favorite holiday. She proceeded to present the package of dolls which her daughter was never able to see. As per Fox, the toys were part of a collection called 'You can be anything'.
“Athena’s favorite holiday was Christmas as it is for many children everywhere. The joy Athena gave her family, and the joy she felt on Christmas is something we will never feel with here again.”
Gandy described her daughter as a kind and friendly child who loved animals and the outdoors.
“(Athena) loved dancing, singing and all animals: dogs, cats, horses, 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."
She also condemned the actions of Horner, saying:
“I was robbed of watching her grow up by a man everyone was supposed to be able to trust. To do just one simple task: deliver a Christmas present and leave.”
In tribute to Athena Strand, the Texas school district began an initiative where everyone wore pink on December 5. CBS reported that over 20 school districts participated in the movement.