Paradise, Texas: At a news conference held last night at about 11:00 pm EST, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin announced that the body of missing 7-year-old Athena Strand had been recovered. "It hurts our hearts to know that that child died," Akin said. "It's one of the toughest investigations that I've been involved in because it's a child. And anytime there's a child that dies, it just hits you in your heart."
Her body was found just 6 miles from her home.
Athena had last been seen at approximately 4:30 pm on Wednesday, November 30 after she returned home from school.
After Athena returned home, she and her mother reportedly got into an argument, something that her step-mother told investigators was common in their relationship. Following the argument, the step-mother went to prepare dinner.
At the time that Athena went missing, her father was absent from the home for a hunting trip.
About an hour after Athena had returned home, her step-mother went to find her in her bedroom and became aware that she was missing. She told investigators that she searched the house for about an hour before calling 911 and reporting her missing at 6:40 pm.
Police, EMS and volunteer firefighters as well as search dogs that joined on Wednesday night. Drones with thermal imaging were also employed during the overnight hours of the search. Eventually, at about 4:30 am on Thursday morning, the search was briefly called off before resuming a few hours later with about 200 citizen volunteers.
Thursday afternoon, an Amber Alert was issued.
From early in the investigation, investigators were aware that a package had been delivered to the home by FedEx. Nonetheless, investigators interviewed all registered sex offenders in the area as well.
"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," Akin said.
On Friday, December 2, 31-year-old contract FedEx driver Tanner Lynn Horner was arrested for the kidnapping and murder of Athena. According to the Star-Telegram, Horner does not appear to have a prior criminal record in either Tarrant or Wise counties.
Horner is being held in the Wise County Jail in lieu of $1.5 million bail on charges of capitol murder of a person under the age of 10 and aggravated kidnapping.
Sheriff Akin said that Horner has confessed to the crime and called it "a crime of opportunity." He further stated that they believed, based on electronic aspects of the investigation as well as Horner's statements, that Athena died within an hour of being taken from her home.
As of Saturday morning, the manner of Athena's death had not been released. Authorities stated that an autopsy had been scheduled to determine her cause of death.
Pray for Athena's family.