Athena Strand’s grandfather said he forgave the FedEx driver accused of abducting and murdering his 7-year-old granddaughter in Texas after requesting "five minutes alone in a cell with the psycho."
Tanner Lynn Horner, a 30-year-old contract driver for FedEx, is charged with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping in connection to Strand’s death. The man, who previously worked as an Uber driver before reportedly being banned from the platform, was held Saturday on a $1.5 million bond.
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin described the girl’s abduction as a "crime of opportunity," explaining that Horner allegedly admitted to abducting Strand while delivering a package to her North Texas home. The girl’s stepmother reported her missing. Two days later, the girl’s body was found less than 10 miles from her father’s home. The suspect reportedly did not know the victim or the girl’s family.
"I can’t quiet my mind and I have to share this. A friend just asked me the other day if I believe God speaks to people? I happen to know He does, as He is speaking to me now," the girl’s grandfather, Mark Strand, wrote in a heartbreaking Facebook tribute on Saturday. "This flesh, this man that I am, is angry and I want 5 minutes alone in a cell with the psycho that took our Athena away from us, but there’s a soft gentle voice in the back of my head telling me I need to forgive him."
"This flesh man, wants that psycho to burn in hell for all eternity, yet that gentle voice continues to tell me, I need to forgive him," the grandfather continued. "This flesh man hopes he remains blind and deaf to the message of salvation and never sets foot in the same heaven that I know in my heart my darling Athena resides in now and yet, that gentle voice persists. Why you ask? Because Hate is a powerful force that will take root in your soul. God wants to protect us all from that hate. Hate is the gateway for the Evil we see growing in the world today."
"If you stood that man before me right now, because of the hate that’s trying to root itself in my mind, I would probably kill him," the elder Strand wrote. "Then that hate would root itself in my heart and I would be destroyed. That gentle voice is the Holy Spirit of God speaking to me right now. He’s reminding me that my savior Jesus, willingly laid Himself on a cross and died in my place to reconcile me to God the Father, but also that He did that for All of Us, even this man that my flesh so Hates at this very moment."
The grandfather’s post went on to say, "I am a sinful man, yet I’ve heard this voice before and I miss hearing this voice. If I allow this hate to consume me, that voice will fade and eventually be silenced. Then that ugly spirit of hate will have succeeded and that’s why this gentle voice persists to tell me I need to forgive this man. It’s for my protection and my peace. It’s to set me free from this hate and allow me to continue to hear God’s gentle voice."
"There’s not one ounce of my flesh that wants to do this or say this, but my spirit has heard God’s voice and right now, while tears flood my eyes, I declare publicly that I forgive this man!" Strand declared.
"Hate will not win. I hope my family will understand that I don’t do this for the sake of this man. I do this for the sake of my family and myself and to Honor the voice of God who is giving me the strength to say this," he said, concluding his post. "I do this to honor our precious Athena who knew no hate. This man won’t be allowed any real estate to live in my brain, he belongs to God and God’s justice will done. Love Conquers All and Forgives. Today, I choose Love and hate loses."
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Horner did not appear to have a prior criminal record. The spokesperson for Uber did not explain to the newspaper why Horner was planned from the platform months ago.
A 23-year-old woman named Shay Marie reportedly has repeatedly claimed on social media that Horner raped her in 2014 when she was age 16. However, it is not clear if Horner was ever prosecuted.
Strand was reportedly staying with her father and stepmother in Texas before she was to return to her mother, Maitlyn Gandy, in Oklahoma around Christmas. In a heartbreaking tribute of her own on Facebook, Gandy wrote, "Athena is innocent, beautiful, kind, intelligent, and just the brightest, happiest soul you could ever meet."
"I don’t want her to be the girl known as the one murdered and discarded by a monster," Gandy wrote. "I want everyone to know, every single person in this world, that this is my baby and my baby was taken from me."