A 7-year-old girl who was missing for several days in Wise County, Texas, has been found dead, officials said.
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin broke the news late Friday night that authorities located the body of 7-year-old Athena Strand during an afternoon search in Boyd after following a tip that led them to a delivery driver.
The sheriff said investigators believe the suspect kidnaped the girl and killed her.
The suspect, a 31-year-old FedEx driver named Tanner Lynn Horner, later confessed to abducting the girl, Akin said. Horner was a contract driver.
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“It’s one of the toughest investigations I have been involved in because it’s a child,” Akin said at a press conference late Friday night alongside Athena’s biological mother and other emergency response officials.
He added: “Any time there’s a child that dies it just hits you in your heart.”
Akin also said they believe the girl was killed “within an hour or so” after she was taken from her home. “This community does not like losing its children,” Akin said Friday night.
Athena went missing Wednesday afternoon after she left home following an argument with her stepmother, according to Fox 4. Athena got off the bus around 4:15 p.m. and left the home sometime before 5:15 p.m., when the stepmother noticed she was missing.
The stepmother searched for an hour and then phoned the police, Fox 4 reported.
Her biological father was out of town on a hunting trip and her biological mother lives in Oklahoma, per the report.
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Finding the body brings a heartbreaking end to more than two days of searching, which involved dozens of law enforcement officials, helicopters and dog rescue teams. More than 300 volunteers also joined in to help, the Wise County Office of Emergency Management said.
Acting FBI Agent In Charge Jim Dwyer told Fox 4 that digital evidence helped lead investigators to the FedEx driver, but did not elaborate further.
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Horner, who is from Lake Worth, is in the Wise County Jail on capital murder and aggravated kidnappings charges, Fox 4 Dallas reported. He is being held on a $1.5 million bond.
Authorities did not comment on whether the girl had been sexually assaulted. A cause of death has not been determined.