The mother of a 7-year-old girl allegedly abducted and murdered by a FedEx driver says she wants the world to know the “beautiful, kind, intelligent” girl who police now say was taken from her.
“My princess was taken from me from a sick, cruel monster for absolutely no reason,” Maitlyn Presley Gandy posted on Facebook Saturday, shortly after authorities called off a desperate two-day search for her daughter, Athena.
“I want everyone to know, every single person in this world, that this is my baby and my baby was taken from me,” she added. “I want everyone to know her face and her voice and just how wonderful of a person she is.”
“I cannot describe the pain and absolute anger I feel. Missing her doesn’t cover how I feel,” she wrote. “I don’t want her to be the girl known as the one murdered and discarded by a monster.”
Police announced Friday that they suspected the girl was taken by the FedEx driver during a delivery to her house. The grim news came just hours after the Wise County Sheriff’s Office told reporters they had scaled back search efforts for Athena Strand and shifted to an “investigation” after no trace of her was found.
The girl’s stepmother reported her missing from the family’s home in Paradise late Wednesday, telling police that when she went to check on the girl in her bedroom, she wasn’t there. An Amber Alert was issued Thursday noting that “law enforcement believes the child’s safety and health are in danger.”
“I cannot describe the pain and absolute anger I feel,” Gandy wrote in her post. “Missing her doesn’t cover how I feel.”
There was speculation in local reports that perhaps the 7-year-old had run away after an argument with her parents, but Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin put an end to those rumors late Friday.
“Her body was recovered about two hours ago, maybe three, six miles in that direction. It hurts our hearts to know that that child died,” he said, visibly upset.
“We knew early on in the investigation that there had been a FedEx driver that made a delivery in front of the house at about the same time Athena came up missing,” he said.
Investigators, he said, “were able to determine that the driver abducted Athena.”
Akin identified the driver as 31-year-old Tanner Lynn Horner. He has been booked into the Wise County Jail and now faces capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges. He is being held on $1.5 million bond.
“We think Athena died within an hour or so of departure from her home,” Akin said, adding that Horner had confessed.
Horner does not appear to have any previous criminal history.
He said Horner had been making a delivery to the Strand home when he snatched the girl. “Digital evidence” was recovered that led investigators to believe Athena died within an hour of her abduction, he said.
Akin said the girl’s family is “devastated” and “angry,” urging the public to “give them a little bit of space” as they come to terms with the shocking turn of events.
“Any time there’s a child that dies, it just hits you in the heart. You compare that child to your own children when they were that age, and it just takes the wind out of your sails,” he said, calling the case “one of the toughest investigations” he ever worked.
FedEx released a statement expressing the company’s sadness about the incident.
“Words cannot describe our shock and sorrow at the reports surrounding this tragic event. First and foremost, our thoughts are with the family during this most difficult time, and we continue to cooperate fully with the investigating authorities. At this time, any further questions should be directed to law enforcement,” the company said.