Maitlyn Gandy, the mother of a 7-year-old Texas girl who was found dead last week, said Athena was “robbed” of the opportunity to grow up.
Athena Strand’s mother spoke briefly on Thursday saying she is now her daughter’s voice and calling the man accused in her daughter’s murder a “monster” who showed up on her doorstep. Watch the full news conference in the video above.
Athena was reported missing from her Paradise, Texas, home last week and found dead two days later. She is being remembered as “the best little girl” who loved animals, drawing and dancing.
Paradise, Texas, is a town of fewer than 500 people about 60 miles northwest of Dallas.
Police have arrested a FedEx delivery driver, Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, on suspicion of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping. Authorities have not said how Athena died but Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said investigators believe she died shortly after she was kidnapped. KXAS reported Akin said that Horner confessed to killing Athena.
The sheriff said Horner, who had made a delivery at the girl’s home shortly before she disappeared, did not know the family.
Horner was a contract worker for FedEx.
During the news conference Gandy showed the package that was to be her daughter’s Christmas present: a You Can Be Anything Barbie set.
“Athena was robbed of the opportunity to grow up to be anything she wanted to be,” Gandy said, adding that Christmas was her favorite holiday.
Gandy said Athena will be cremated and come home in an urn because Gandy said she’s “not anywhere close to being ready to let (her) baby go. ... I was robbed.”
“I will spend the rest of my life fighting for her so that no other family will endure such unbearable pain and grief,” Gandy added. “That a monster attempted to take Athena’s voice, but we are her voice. Screening and hiring policies must be put into place so that monsters wearing delivery uniforms don’t show on our children’s doorsteps. Please help keep Athena’s light shining.”
At a vigil Tuesday night in Paradise, mourners gathered to remember Athena, many of them wearing pink. Her mother addressed the assembled crowd then, thanking those who helped search for her daughter after an Amber Alert was issued.
“I just want to keep her face and story alive,” Gandy said at the vigil. She continued: “Because she was the best little girl.”
Horner remained jailed Wednesday on $1.5 million bond and records do not list an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
Benson Varghese, a lawyer for Athena’s family, said it is in the early stages of investigation in the case and noted that FedEx did reach out to the family with condolences, but that it will work with the company going forward. Varghese told the media that Gandy wants to make sure no other family has to endure what she and her family are living through right now.