A FedEx driver accused of abducting and killing a young girl in Texas has told authorities that he strangled her after accidentally hitting her with his van while making a delivery at her home.
Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, told investigators that seven-year-old Athena Strand was not seriously hurt after he hit her while backing up last week, but he panicked and put her in his van.
Horner said he didn’t want Athena, who he said told him her name, to tell her father what happened, so he tried to break the girl’s neck and when that didn’t work, he strangled her with his hands in the back of the van, the warrant said.
Athena was found dead on 2 December, two days after she was reported missing from the home of her father and stepmother in Paradise, a town around 60 miles (96km) northwest of Dallas.
Her mother, Maitlyn Gandy, said the package that Horner delivered that day was a Christmas present for the “amazing little girl”.
“I was robbed of watching her grow up,” Ms Gandy said as she stood beside the present, a box of You Can Be Anything Barbies, at a news conference on Thursday.
Ms Gandy said that Athena had been set to return home to her in Oklahoma after the Christmas break.
She described her as “her father’s daughter” and said she loved dancing, singing and all animals.
At a vigil was held on Tuesday night in Paradise, as mourners who gathered to remember Athena wore pink.
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said they knew early on that a delivery had been made at the girl’s home at about the same time that she disappeared and that she was killed about an “hour or so” after being kidnapped.
The warrant said Horner took investigators to where he’d left Athena’s body.
It added that the van that delivered the package was equipped with video and an FBI employee who watched it saw the driver take a young girl who looked like Athena in the van and spoke to her.
Horner was arrested last week on charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping and remained jailed on Thursday with his bond set at $1.5m.
The warrant said Horner told authorities Athena was dead and confessed. Jail records did not list an attorney who could speak on his behalf.