Athena Strand, a seven-year-old girl from North Texas, was found dead in Wise County two days after her stepmother reported her missing on November 30.
In a press conference, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said the girl's stepmother was the only adult home at the time of her disappearance. Athena's father was reportedly away on a deer hunting trip at the time.
Athena Strand was reportedly visiting Texas after her birth mother, Maitlyn Gandy, who lives in Southern Oklahoma, allowed her to spend the fall semester with her father and stepmother.
As per Fox News, Gandy, who has sole custody of her daughter, drove to Texas from Oklahoma after she heard of her daughter's disappearance.
In a press conference, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin, while announcing the discovery of Strand's body, said that the parents had cooperated with the investigation.
He added that Strand, who had been attending Wise County school, was supposed to move in with her mother, Maitlyn Gandy, in Oklahoma soon. Law enforcement hasn't disclosed the names of the father and stepmother.
Athena Strand was found seven miles from her father's home
On Friday, December 2, at a press conference in Cottondale, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin announced that Athena Strand's body was found seven miles from her father's home. Authorities said the suspect, who confessed to the murder, was in custody.
Officials said Athena Strand was abducted by Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, a FedEx truck driver, near her home after the girl argued with her stepmother. Lynn reportedly dropped off a package at Strand's parents' home when he kidnapped the girl.
The stepmother told authorities that she discovered Strand missing when she went to her room later that evening. An hour after searching for Strand, the stepmother called authorities, who suspected the girl had left her home and then gotten lost.
However, relatives of the missing girl, who noted that Strand feared the dark, disagreed with their assertion.
Strand's aunt Keeland Kulbeth from Oklahoma, who assisted the police in their search, reiterated her disbelief that her niece would willingly leave home, telling NBC 5:
“We definitely don’t believe Athena ran off.”
“She may have been upset at the dad’s leaving, and may have, I don’t know honestly, just from what I was told, she may have gotten upset. She loved people, loved animals, and loved flowers. She’s a very girly girl. I just can’t see her running off and leaving.”
Over 200 volunteers and dozens of law enforcement personnel assisted in the search. They combed the neighborhood for two days until law enforcement found the body between 7 and 8 pm on Friday, southeast of Boyd, about seven miles from her parent's home.
Tanner Lynn Horner, a FedEx truck driver, confessed to abducting and killing Athena Strand on Wednesday afternoon. The suspect was charged with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping. Authorities did not disclose additional details of the crime.