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The Murder of Athena: From Disappearance To Heartbreaking Resolution

The Tragedy of Athena Strand

The search for Athena Strand, a seven-year-old girl who tragically disappeared from her home in Paradise, Texas, unfolded as a harrowing and intense effort that gripped the local community and captured national attention. The search was not only a race against time but also a complex operation involving multiple law enforcement agencies, community members, and the utilization of various technologies and strategies.

The Disappearance

On November 30, 2022, Athena vanished from her father’s yard, initiating a desperate search. Initially, her disappearance may have seemed like a case of a child wandering off, but it quickly escalated into a much more serious situation.

The Amber Alert issued for Athena Strand was a critical component of the response to her disappearance. An Amber Alert is a child abduction alert system, used to quickly disseminate information about a suspected child abduction to the public, with the aim of soliciting help from the community in locating the child and apprehending the abductor.

Criteria for Issuing an Amber Alert

Amber Alerts have specific criteria that must be met before they are issued. These typically include confirmation of an abduction, the child being at risk of serious injury or death. There is sufficient descriptive information about the child, captor, or captor’s vehicle andthe child being 17 years old or younger.

The Alert’s Content

The alert for Athena likely included her description (age, height, weight, hair color, eye color, clothing last seen wearing), any known details about the abduction (time, location, circumstances), and information about the suspect and their vehicle, if available.

Public Response

The public’s role in responding to an Amber Alert is to be vigilant and report any sightings or information relevant to the alert to the authorities. In Athena’s case, the community and the general public would have been on high alert, looking out for her or any suspicious activity that could be related to her disappearance.

Effectiveness and Challenges

The effectiveness of an Amber Alert depends on several factors, such as the timing of the issuance, the accuracy and specificity of the information provided, and public engagement. One challenge is avoiding the desensitization of the public to alerts, which can happen if they are issued too frequently or without sufficient cause.

In Athena Strand’s tragic case, the Amber Alert was part of a broader effort to locate her as quickly as possible. While the outcome was heartbreaking, the alert played a vital role in mobilizing community and public awareness, which is often crucial in the early stages of a child abduction case. It also highlights the importance of systems like the Amber Alert in our collective effort to protect the most vulnerable in our society and the need for continued public support and attention to these alerts.

The Search Begins

The immediate response to Athena’s disappearance involved local law enforcement. The Wise County Sheriff’s Office, alongside other local agencies, initiated a ground search around the area where she was last seen. This included combing the nearby fields, forests, and any buildings where she could have possibly wandered off to or been taken.

Community Involvement

As the seriousness of Athena’s disappearance became apparent, the community rallied together. Volunteers joined the search efforts, providing additional manpower to the law enforcement teams. They organized search parties, distributed flyers, and used social media platforms to spread awareness and appeal for any information regarding Athena’s whereabouts.

Technological and Investigative Aids

Law enforcement utilized various technological tools to aid the search. This included drones for aerial searches, which provided a wider view of the landscape and could access hard-to-reach areas. Canine units were also deployed, trained to track scents which could lead to Athena or provide clues about her abductor.

The Role of Digital Evidence

Digital evidence played a pivotal role in the search. Investigators combed through digital footprints, which included analyzing cell phone data and GPS tracking information from vehicles in the vicinity. This modern approach to investigation helped in piecing together the sequence of events leading to Athena’s abduction.

Surveillance Footage

A critical turning point in the search was the analysis of surveillance footage. A FedEx delivery van was captured on camera, and this footage eventually led to the identification of the abductor. The ability to process and analyze surveillance footage rapidly was crucial in narrowing down the search and focusing investigative efforts. In particular, the surveillance footage from a FedEx van became a key piece of evidence that shifted the direction of the investigation.

The Tragic Discovery

Despite the extensive search efforts, the outcome was heartbreaking. Athena’s body was found two days after her disappearance, just nine miles from her home. The discovery was a devastating blow to the family, the community, and everyone involved in the search.

Aftermath and Reflection

The search for Athena Strand, although conducted with urgency and utilizing a wide array of resources, ended tragically. Her case raised significant concerns about the safety of children in their own communities and the importance of vigilance. It also highlighted the capabilities and limitations of law enforcement in responding to such critical situations.

This incident serves as a stark reminder of the unpredictable nature of such tragedies and the need for continued improvement in community safety, law enforcement techniques, and the overall system of response to missing persons cases. The memory of Athena and the community’s response to her disappearance will likely continue to influence local and national discussions on child safety and community policing.

The Culprit: Tanner Horner

Tanner Horner, the individual arrested in connection with the tragic kidnapping and murder of seven-year-old Athena Strand in November 2022, was a figure largely unknown to the broader public prior to this heinous crime. His background and the circumstances that led to his involvement in such a horrific act raise questions about the factors that can lead seemingly ordinary individuals to commit extraordinary crimes.

Employment and Daily Life

At the time of the crime, Tanner Horner was employed as a delivery driver. This occupation granted him access to various neighborhoods, including the one where Athena Strand lived. His job as a delivery driver was mundane and ordinary, a role that thousands of people across the country perform daily without incident.

Screening and Vetting Processes

The case brought to light questions about the screening and vetting processes for employees in positions that require high levels of public trust. Companies like FedEx typically conduct background checks and assessments to ensure the suitability of their drivers for the role. However, the incident involving Horner has led to increased scrutiny of these processes. It raises concerns about how effectively these checks are carried out and whether they are sufficient to identify potential risks.

Arrest and Charges

Following his apprehension, Tanner Lynn Horner was detained with a bond set at $1.5 million. On February 16, 2023, a grand jury in Wise County formally indicted Horner, charging him with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping.

Athena’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy, expressed her gratitude towards the grand jury, acknowledging the challenging nature of reviewing the details of her 7-year-old daughter’s kidnapping and murder. She appreciated their efforts and thanked everyone for their continued support and for keeping Athena’s memory alive.

In the same month, District Attorney James Stainton announced his intention to pursue the death penalty against Horner. This decision aligns with the Strand family’s expressed support for capital punishment in this case.

Release of Athena Strand’s Autopsy Report February 2023 also saw the release of Athena Strand’s autopsy report by Wise County officials. The autopsy revealed the cause of death as blunt force trauma to the head and strangulation. It also clarified that there was no evidence of sexual assault.

Arraignment and Plea

On March 6, 2023, during an arraignment hearing, Tanner Horner entered a plea of not guilty to the charges of capital murder and kidnapping. Benson Varghese, representing Athena’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy, remarked on the significance of this occasion for Maitlyn, as it was her first time in the same room as her daughter’s alleged killer. He noted the emotional challenge for Maitlyn, emphasizing the importance of her presence to honor Athena’s memory.

In legislative developments, May 2023 saw a significant achievement influenced by this case. The Texas Senate passed a law, named the “Athena Alert,” designed to streamline the process for issuing alerts for missing and abducted children. This law expands the alert system to cover a 100-mile radius, integrating with the existing AMBER Alert framework.

Also in May 2023, to commemorate what would have been Athena’s eighth birthday on May 13, Maitlyn Gandy organized a softball tournament in her daughter’s honor. During this event, she announced the creation of the “Athena Strand’s Army Foundation.” Maitlyn spoke about her strong support network, including friends, family, her legal team, and the community, and shared her approach to coping with the loss of her daughter, stating that keeping busy was her way of managing through this challenging time.

As Of Now

The Wise County Messenger initially reported that District Judge Brock Smith reassigned the legal representation for Tanner Horner, who was initially appointed attorneys Bill Ray and Steven Gordon. This decision followed the realization of Wise County’s agreement with the Regional Public Defender’s Office to provide legal counsel in capital murder cases.

This judicial move was contested by the Wise County District Attorney, who labeled it a “reversible error.” As a result, the case experienced a pause. During a hearing in the previous month, Horner, for the first time, addressed the court directly, requesting to retain the services of the public defender’s office.

Due to these developments, the commencement of the trial is now anticipated to be delayed until at least mid-2024.

In a separate but related legal matter, Athena’s parents have filed a lawsuit against FedEx in a civil court. Across the nation, FedEx depends on approximately 6,000 contractors for package pickup and delivery services. Horner was an employee of Big Topspin, Inc., a Dallas-based contractor, which is also a party to the lawsuit.

To date, Big Topspin has not publicly commented on Athena’s death to WFAA. The company operates from a residential location in the Dallas area and has not responded to inquiries regarding Horner’s employment, including questions about his vetting and training processes.

Conclusion

The legal proceedings Tanner Horner faces are a testament to the complexities of the criminal justice system, especially in cases involving serious crimes. Each phase, from arraignment to potential sentencing, involves intricate legal processes and procedures designed to ensure a fair trial and just outcome. The case’s resolution will ultimately hinge on the strength of the evidence, the effectiveness of the legal arguments presented, and the decision of the jury, all unfolding under the watchful eye of the public and the legal system.

Need Help? Call Us Now!

Do not forget that when you or anyone you know is facing a criminal charge, you have us, the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, by your side to help you build the best defense case for you. We will work and be in your best interest for you and we will obtain the best possible outcome that can benefit you. We can explain everything you need to know about your trial and how to defend your case best. We can help you step by step through the criminal process. 

Therefore, do not hesitate to call us if you find yourself or someone you know that is facing criminal charges unsure about the court system. We will work with you to give you the best type of defense that can help you solve your case. It is vital to have someone explain the result of the charge to you and guide you in the best possible way.

Here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we have professional and knowledgeable criminal law attorneys who are experienced in building a defense case for you that suits your needs for the best possible outcome that can benefit you.  

Also, here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, you are given a free consultation at your convenience. You may choose to have your appointment via Zoom, google meet, email, or an in-person appointment; and we will provide you with as much advice and information as possible so you can have the best possible result in your case. 

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