A search for a missing 7-year-old Texas girl ended with the discovery two days later of her body and a FedEx contract driver being charged in her kidnapping and killing, authorities said Friday.
The search for the girl, Athena Strand, began Wednesday in Paradise, Texas, about 64km (40 miles) northwest of Fort Worth. Nearly 200 volunteers and numerous law enforcement agencies, using dogs and a helicopter with thermal imagining, participated in the search.
Her body was found Friday but the authorities declined to specify where.
Authorities identified the FedEx driver as Tanner Lynn Horner (31), and said he had been charged with aggravated kidnapping and capital murder of a person under 10 years old.
Authorities said that Mr Horner did not know the family or the girl and that Athena had been taken from near her home.
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said Mr Horner confessed to killing the girl and said authorities believed she had been killed within an hour of being abducted. They declined to specify how she died or what led them to believe that she died within an hour of her abduction.
“It’s been a really, really tough few days and I’m really proud of the people here who helped us get some resolution, to get some understanding to provide answers for the families,” Mr Akin said during a news conference Friday.
Authorities said Athena had stepped off her schoolbus and arrived home in Paradise on Wednesday about 4.15pm. Officials did not specify if anyone was home at the time.
Then, about 6.40pm, Athena’s stepmother called 911 to report the girl missing. Authorities arrived at the home within 14 minutes, Mr Akin said, and an Amber Alert was issued.
Mr Akin said a tip that came in Friday helped to identify Mr Horner.
“We knew early on in the investigation that 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,” the sheriff said. “And continued good work by this investigative team, they were able to determine that the driver abducted Athena.”
James Dwyer, acting special agent in charge at the FBI office in Dallas, said that “digital evidence and partnerships with FedEx” had helped identify Mr Horner. He did not offer specifics about the digital evidence.
Authorities said Mr Horner is from Lake Worth, although court records show a Fort Worth address. He was being held at the Wise County Jail on $1.5 million bond. It was not clear Saturday if Mr Horner had a lawyer.
About 840,000 children are reported missing each year, according to the Child Crime Prevention and Safety Centre.
“Nonfamily abductions include kidnappings committed by acquaintances and strangers,” the centre said. Acquaintance abductions make up 27 per cent of all child abductions, it said, adding that abductions by strangers typically happen in outdoor locations.
In a statement on Twitter, FedEx said it was co-operating with authorities.
“Our thoughts are with the family of Athena Strand during this most difficult time,” the statement said. “Words cannot describe our shock and sorrow surrounding this tragic event.”This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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