Athena Strand found dead after being kidnapped by delivery driver: Wise County sheriff

The search for a missing Wise County little girl has come to a terrible end.

Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin confirmed that 7-year-old Athena Strand’s body was found Friday afternoon in Boyd, Texas. It's about six miles from the Cottondale Fire Department.

Akin says a tip led them to a driver contracted by FedEx, who is believed to have abducted Athena from her home Wednesday night. The driver confessed to kidnapping her. Athena likely died an hour after her disappearance, the sheriff said.

Authorities say the driver, 31-year-old Tanner Lynn Horner of Fort Worth, was an independent contractor. He is being held in the Wise County Jail and is charged with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping. He is being held on a $1.5 million bond.

Athena’s biological mother showed up to Friday’s news conference. She didn’t want to talk on camera but said she is desperate to have her daughter home. 

FOX 4's Macy Jenkins was speaking to neighbors Friday afternoon off County Road 4599 when they were approached by law enforcement and told to move back immediately, but her body was not found there.

Sheriff Akin says information from interviews initially led them to that area. But it turns out that was incorrect as her body was recovered elsewhere.

Acting FBI Agent In Charge Jim Dwyer says it was digital evidence that led them to the driver who was contracted to deliver packages for FedEx, but he would not specify.

Sheriff Akin says Athena’s case has personally been one of the most challenging he’s faced.

"It’s one of the most difficult investigations I have been involved in because it’s a child," he said. "It just hits you in your heart."

Earlier Friday night in Lake Worth, Fort Worth police set up roadblocks on Somerville Place Road. Akin says that is where the suspect lives. They would not elaborate on whether or not any evidence

READ MORE: AMBER Alert issued for 7-year-old Wise County girl

Athena got off of her school bus on Wednesday at 4:15 p.m.

Athena’s stepmother called 911 at 6:40 p.m. to report her missing from her home in Paradise. She told investigators there was an argument and later the girl was not in her room. The sheriff says she waited an hour to tell authorities because she went looking for the girl first.

A large group of law enforcement officers, more than 300 volunteers, dog teams, helicopters and thermal imaging technology participated in the search.

"We were able to cover vast amounts of area and talk to tons of people more quickly than we would have without them," said Wise County Chief Deputy Craig Johnson.

Image 1 of 6

Courtesy: Maitlyn Gandy

Akin says the girl's stepmother was the only adult home at the time of her disappearance. The father was on his way to South Texas for a deer hunting trip when he was told what happened.

The Wise County Sheriff's Office says both of the girl’s parents and the stepmother have cooperated throughout the process. Akin said he did not recall any previous calls to the home.

Athena’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy, lives in southern Oklahoma. She told FOX 4 that she does have sole custody of her daughter but allowed her to spend the fall semester in Texas with her father and stepmother.

"We talked to both sides: the mother and the father and the stepmother. They have been very cooperative," Akin said.

Athena's mother drove down from Oklahoma and was seen talking to investigators at the search site.

Athena's cause of death has not been determined. Her body is being taken to the medical examiner's office.