The FedEx driver charged in the murder of 7-year-old Athena Strand admitted to killing her to prevent her from reporting he had hit the child with his van, according to a newly released arrest warrant.
The driver, 31-year-old Tanner Lynn Horner, told investigators he hit Athena while backing up and "panicked," putting her in the back of the van. He said she wasn't seriously injured and was conscious and speaking to him. She told him her name and said she would tell her father Horner had hit her, so he said he strangled her.
Horner also told investigators where to find Athena's body, according to the warrant.
Horner was at Athena's father and stepmother's property in Paradise, Texas, on Nov. 30 to deliver a package intended to be a gift for the girl for Christmas, her mother Maitlyn Gandy said at a press conference Thursday, displaying a box of “You Can Be Anything” Barbie dolls and a shipping box from Walmart.
"Athena was robbed of the opportunity to be anything she wanted to be," Gandy said at the emotional press conference from the steps of the Wise County Courthouse. "I was robbed of watching her grow up by a man that everybody was supposed to be able to trust to do one simple task: deliver a Christmas present and leave."
Athena's body was found on Dec. 2, two days after she was reported missing by her stepmother, the warrant said.
Horner, who drove for a contractor for FedEx, is in jail facing charges of capital murder of someone under 10 years old and aggravated kidnapping, and his bond is set at $1.5 million, jail records show.
Gandy called for increased screening and hiring procedures so other families would not have to experience her pain and grief. A lawyer for the family, Benson Varghese, said his office was investigating who might be held accountable for the decisions that led to the abduction and killing of Athena, including FedEx.
Athena's family asked community members to wear pink in Athena's honor. Many mourners wore pink at a vigil held for Athena on Tuesday in Paradise, a town of fewer than 500 people about 60 miles outside Dallas.
Gandy, whose hair was dyed bright pink, said she had planned to bring Athena back to her home in Oklahoma after Christmas. "Now, instead, Athena will be cremated and she will come home in an urn," she said.
Contributing: Christine Fernando, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Warrant: Texas FedEx driver said he strangled 7-year-old Athena Strand