A FedEx driver allegedly kidnapped a 7-year-old girl from her Texas home earlier this week before killing her, according to police.
The heinous crime was revealed as police announced Friday night that they had discovered the body of Athena Strand, who had gone missing after leaving her bedroom on Wednesday.
Police believe the FedEx driver, Tanner Lynn Horner, had delivered a package to her home around the time she disappeared, CBS reported.
Horner, 31, allegedly admitted to kidnapping the young girl from her home in Paradise, about 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth. He is accused of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping.
“We knew early on in the investigation that there had been a FedEx driver, made a delivery in front of the house, about the same time that little Athena, 7-year-old Athena, came up missing,” Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said during a late Friday press conference.
Investigators have “digital evidence” that Horner committed the crime, but they did not elaborate. The accused murderer is being held in jail on $1.5 million bail.
Akin believes Athena died “within an hour or so of her departure from her home.” Police would not say how Athena died, only that she was discovered southeast of Boyd, about 10 miles from her Paradise home.
Athena was reported missing at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday after her stepmother couldn’t find her in the home.
“We know that there was a little bit of an argument between her and her step-mom last night but it isn’t anything unusual,” Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin told NBC 5. “There was that argument, then step-mom went to fix dinner, came back to get Athena, and Athena wasn’t in her room.”
The stepmother searched for Athena for about an hour before she reported the young girl missing, Akin said.
Police had theorized she left the home on her own but may have gotten lost. Officials waited to release an Amber Alert until Thursday morning because her family told police that Athena had done this before and officials hoped they would find her in the night, WFAA reported.
Athena’s family, on the other hand, told police that the girl is afraid of the dark and that she would not leave the house alone.
“We definitely don’t believe Athena ran away,” Keeland Kulbeth, Athena’s aunt and Athena’s mother’s sister, told NBC 5.
The police did not dismiss the possibility of criminality and kidnapping.
Athena’s disappearance sparked intense search efforts. About 200 citizens joined various Texas departments to comb an estimated 50 acres in Paradise. The response was so overwhelming that the Wise County Office of Emergency Management department asked volunteers to stop showing up to search parties.