Maitlyn Gandy – the mother of 7-year-old Athena Strand – took to Facebook on December 4th to pay tribute to her late daughter, who was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by a FedEx driver before disposing of her body. She also spoke publicly for the first time at a candlelight vigil on December 6th.
“Her name is Athena Presley Monroe Strand. She was perfect from her creation. She was born perfect and too beautiful. Daddy and mommy were scared of how beautiful she has always been and we feel like we failed you. No one deserves what happened to you, but especially you,” she wrote on Facebook.
“I love you and love doesn’t even cover it. Mommy is broken without you,” she continued. Her Facebook post included more than a dozen photos of Athena, which showed the seven-year-old doing things any normal seven-year-old would be doing – riding a bicycle, petting a rabbit, eating a slice of cake, and more.
Athena Strand disappeared from her home on November 30th, at which point a community-wide search began in hopes of finding the little girl alive. After two days, her body was found roughly 11 miles away. Not long after, police officers arrested Tanner Horner and charged him with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping.
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin confirmed they had a confession out of Horner, a FedEx contract driver. He allegedly kidnapped Athena Strand before murdering and disposing of her body about an hour after the kidnapping. He remains behind bars as he awaits trial and currently has bonds amounting to $1.5 million.
“I cannot thank everyone enough for all of the prayers, kind words, support, fundraisers, and donations we have been receiving. More importantly, I cannot thank everyone enough for sharing Athena’s photos and story. Please don’t stop,” said Maitlyn Gandy in a second Facebook post on December 5th.
“I am trying to stay strong. In all of the heartbreak and trauma I have experienced in my life, I would take it ten times over again to not have this pain and especially the reason I am in this pain. The message I have for everyone is please continue to share and talk about Athena and her legacy,” she continued.
Community Members Rally Behind Athena Strand and Her Family
Maitlyn Gandy continued to break her silence on December 6, speaking to a crowd of friends, family, and community members at a candlelight vigil for her daughter. “I want everyone to know Athena for Athena, not what someone tried to make her out to be. Because she was the best little girl,” she said at the vigil.
Several voices in the community spoke similar sentiments – including Lindsey Thompson, who was Athena’s first-grade teacher. “I now have 18 six and seven-year-olds who are hurting because they no longer have a friend and classmate,” she said, hoping to give people a fresh, different perspective.
Others who addressed the crowd included a member of the sheriff’s office and the pastor at First Baptist Church Cottondale – where the vigil was being held. It was a night filled with love, purpose, and unity as a community came together as one. It shouldn’t have to happen this way, but that’s the harsh reality of it.
If you would like to show your support for Athena Strand and her family, who are dedicated to ensuring justice runs its course, they’ve started a GoFundMe page. “All donations are being allocated for justice for Athena. We are greatly moved by all of the support shown in the community,” wrote the family.
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