Athena Strand memorial grows as community pays their respects

During a church service on Sunday morning, First Baptist Cottondale put up a pink cross for Athena Strand, the 7-year-old who was kidnapped and killed in Wise County last week.

Pink ribbons line the streets of Boyd leading to the growing memorial.

Throughout the day people stopped by the church to pay their respects.

"You do have to come through Boyd to get to Paradise," said Krista Barber, who lives in Boyd.

Michael Phelps and his wife Sheila live across the street from First Baptist Cottondale.

Their 7-year-old daughter Lirick was classmates with Athena.

"This happens everywhere else, but you won’t think it happens here," Phelps said. "It's a daily reminder, but it’s nothing compared to what that family is going through."

Investigators say Athena Strand was abducted and killed Wednesday evening, shortly after leaving her Paradise home.

31-year-old contract FedEx driver Tanner Horner confessed to the crime and sits in the Wise County Jail facing charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping.

The Wise County Sheriff says Horner was dropping off a package at Strand's home around the same time she vanished.

Following a draining multi-day search, Horner, who has no connection to the family, pointed investigators where to find Strand's body southeast of Boyd.

First Baptists Cottondale held service Sunday morning for his members who feel their sense of security has been stripped.

The church, once a makeshift command post for search efforts, now a place for healing.

"Because I realize it could have easily been my kid," said Senior Charles Pugh of First Baptist Cottondale.

Pugh stayed up late finalizing his Sunday sermon.

 "Not allowing bitterness and hate to build, but turn to the Lord," he said.

Strand's grandfather posted an emotional, lengthy tribute on social media.

In it, he said he forgives Horner writing, "hate will not win. I do this to honor our precious Athena who knew no hate." 

'I forgive this man': Athena Strand's grandfather shares emotional post forgiving delivery driver

"We can't begin to fathom how heartbreaking this is. This is the best we can offer right now," said Barber.

Authorities did not give updates on the investigation on Sunday.

Monday, we are hoping to read the arrest warrant affidavit which could offer a motive for Horner's actions.

As people wait for updates, a campaign has started to encourage Texans to wear pink for Athena on Monday.

Nearby school districts, including Boyd, say they are participating.

A vigil is still planned for this Tuesday at 6 p.m. at First Baptist Cottondale. The public is invited.

Horner is set to go before a judge Monday.