The body of a 7-year-old girl who had been missing for several days in Wise County, Texas, has been found, officials said.
According to Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin, authorities located the body of 7-year-old Athena Strand during an afternoon search in Boyd following a tip that led them to a delivery driver.
It is believed that the suspect kidnapped and murdered the girl, according to the sheriff.
According to Akin, the suspect, a 31-year-old FedEx driver named Tanner Lynn Horner, later confessed to abducting the girl. Horner worked as a contract driver.
“It’s one of the toughest investigations I have been involved in because it’s a child,” Akin told a press conference late Friday night alongside Athena’s biological mother and other emergency response officials.
Additionally, he stated: “Any time there’s a child that dies it just hits you in your heart.”
According to Akin, the girl was killed “within an hour or so” of being taken from her home. “This community does not like losing its children,” said Akin on Friday evening.
After an argument with her stepmother, Athena left home Wednesday afternoon and hasn’t been seen since, according to Fox 4. Around 4:15 p.m., Athena got off the bus, leaving the home before 5:15 p.m., when she was noticed missing by her stepmother.
After searching for an hour, the stepmother called the police, Fox 4 reported.
According to the report, her biological father was out of town on a hunting trip and her biological mother lives in Oklahoma.
This heartbreaking discovery ends two days of searching that involved dozens of law enforcement officials, helicopters and dog rescue teams. Approximately 300 volunteers also helped, according to Wise County Office of Emergency Management.
Acting FBI agent in charge Jim Dwyer told Fox 4 that digital evidence helped investigators track down the FedEx driver, but he did not elaborate.
“Words cannot describe our shock and sorrow at the reports surrounding this tragic event,” FedEx spokesperson stated. “First and foremost, our thoughts are with the family during this most difficult time, and we continue to cooperate fully with the investigating authorities. At this time, any further questions should be directed to law enforcement.”
The Wise County Jail is holding Horner, who is from Lake Worth, on capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges, according to Fox 4 Dallas. Currently, he is being held on a $1.5 million bond.
There was no comment from the authorities regarding whether the girl had been sexually assaulted. The cause of death has not been determined.