A FedEx driver accused of kidnapping and killing a young girl in Texas told authorities he accidentally hit her while making a delivery at her home and then strangled her.
Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, told investigators he was not seriously injured last week when he backed up and hit 7-year-old Athena Strand, But he panicked and put her in his van.
Horner said he didn’t want Athena to tell her father what had happened, saying Athena told him her name so he tried unsuccessfully to break the girl’s neck and strangled her with both hands. The van, the warrant said.
Athena was found dead on Dec. 2, two days after she was reported missing from her father and stepmother’s home in Paradise, a small town about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Dallas.
Her mother, Maitlyn Gandy, said the package Horner delivered that day was a Christmas present for the “amazing little girl.”
“I was disenfranchised to watch her grow up,” Ms. Gandy said, standing next to her gift, a box of You Can Be Anything Barbie dolls, at a news conference Thursday.
Ms. Gandy said Athena was ready to return to her home in Oklahoma after the Christmas break.
She described her as “her father’s daughter” and said she loved dancing, singing and all animals.
A vigil was held in Paradise on Tuesday night, with mourners who gathered to honor Athena dressed in pink.
Wise County Sheriff Ryan Arkin said they knew early on that around the same time the girl was missing, a delivery was at her home and she was killed about “an hour or so” after she was kidnapped.
Horner took investigators to where he left Athena’s body, the warrant said.
It added that the van delivering the packages was equipped with video, and an FBI agent who watched the video saw the driver take a young girl who looked like Athena in the van and talk to her.
Horner was arrested last week on murder and aggravated kidnapping charges and remained in custody Thursday on $1.5 million bond.
Horner told authorities Athena was dead and confessed, the warrant said. Jail records did not list an attorney who could speak on his behalf.