▶ Watch Video: Athena Strand’s mom says murdered daughter was ‘robbed of the opportunity to grow up’

A delivery driver suspected in the murder of a 7-year-old girl in North Texas told investigators that he accidentally struck her with his van prior to strangling her, according to an arrest warrant.

The suspect, 31-year-old Tanner Lynn Horner, told Wise County Sheriff’s detectives that he was backing up a FedEx truck when he struck 7-year-old Athena Strand last Wednesday, per an arrest warrant obtained Thursday by CBS DFW.

Horner told investigators that, after hitting Strand, he panicked and placed her inside the truck, the arrest warrant reads. He also told police that, after hitting her, Strand was not seriously hurt and was “alive” and “talking to him,” according to the warrant.

He told detectives he then killed Strand because “she was going to tell her father about being hit by the FedEx truck,” the warrant states.

An undated photo of 7-year-old Athena Strand, who went missing from a home in Paradise, Texas, on Nov. 30, 2022. Her body was found two days later, on Dec. 2. 

Maitlyn Gandy/Facebook

According to the warrant, Horner said that he initially tried to break Strand’s neck, but when that failed, he strangled her.

Strand was reported missing from her father and stepmother’s home in Paradise, Texas, on Nov. 30 prompting a massive search. Two days later, according to the warrant, Horner led investigators to her body in the Wise County town of Boyd, located about 10 miles from Paradise.

A contract driver for FedEx, Horner had delivered a package to the house at about the same time Strand disappeared, Wise County Sheriff’s officials had previously reported.

In a news conference Thursday in Decatur, Texas, Strand’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy, who resides in Oklahoma, said that the delivery was Strand’s Christmas present.

“The packages contained, ‘You Can Be Anything’ Barbies,” Gandy told reporters. “Athena was robbed of the opportunity to grow up to be anything she wanted to be. And this present, ordered out of innocence and love, is one she will never receive.”

Gandy also said that she was supposed to bring Strand “back home to Oklahoma after Christmas break.”

The warrant states that after Strand’s disappearance, investigators worked with Big Topspin, the contracting company hired by FedEx to deliver packages, to determine “which van and driver had made the delivery.”

The van was equipped with cameras that captured footage of the suspect placing a girl who fit Strand’s description in the van, the warrant reads.

When investigators located and interviewed Horner, he confessed to them that Strand was dead, the warrant said.

Horner, of Lake Worth, Texas, is being held on capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges. His bail has been set at $1.5 million. He has no criminal history. 

Paradise is located in the Dallas-Forth Worth-Arlington metro area, about 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth.