The Athena Strand case inspires the Missing Children Alert Bill in Texas
Texas lawmakers on Wednesday voted to pass a bill for a localized version of the Amber Alert system, which would allow police to notify people within 100 miles the moment a child goes missing.
The so-called Athena Alert bill is named for Athena Strand, the seven-year-old girl who was allegedly kidnapped and killed by a FedEx driver on Nov. 30 while delivering a package to her home in rural Wise County. Her body was found in December. 2, less than 10 miles from her father and stepmother’s home. Tanner Horner has pleaded not guilty He is charged with $1.5 million bail for murder and aggravated kidnapping.
The law now goes to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who must sign it before it goes into effect. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
GOP State Representative Lynn Stucky, Author House Law 3556told the Texas House Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety that if the Athena warning had been in effect at the time, the Wise County Sheriff could have issued a local alert almost immediately.
“I’m grateful to my colleagues in the Senate for sending my bill, HB 3556, to @GovAbbott’s desk,” Stucky said tweeted on Fridayusing the governor’s twitter trade. “A special thanks to Athena’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy, who came to Austin to testify in support.”
“If that alert had been in place at the time of my daughter’s disappearance, there is no doubt that the Wise County Sheriff’s Office would have activated it,” Gandy, the mother, was quoted as saying in a press release from her attorneys.
“Unfortunately, their hands were tied because my daughter’s disappearance did not immediately meet the strict criteria for an AMBER nationwide alert. It was a sense of helplessness I wouldn’t wish on any parent. I hope every state follows Texas’ example and changes the law so that no other parent has to wait when their child goes missing.”
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin told HuffPost that his office “deeply appreciates” Stucky’s efforts on the Athena Alert bill.
“With the passage, law enforcement will be able to make a local judgment and issue an alert that can help bring a child home to their parents,” Akin said. “Hopefully we never have to make that judgment, but if it happens again and we choose to, we have an additional tool to help us recover a missing child.”
On the day of Athena’s disappearance, her stepmother spent “about an hour” looking for the girl before reporting her missing to police around 6:40 p.m., authorities said, but only an Amber Alert was issued the following afternoon.
At the time, Akin said Athena’s stepmother told police that she and the girl had had a fight. Authorities suspected no crime and believed she may have run away, the sheriff said said CBS last year.
“At first we thought it was just another missing child, a missing child that would be found in minutes.” Akin told HuffPost on Friday. “But that was not the case. We were unable to issue an Amber alert because the details of the case did not meet criteria set by the Texas Department of Public Safety at the time.”
The the state’s Amber Alert criteria include “a preliminary investigation [that has] reviewed the abduction and eliminated alternative explanations for the child’s disappearance” and a law enforcement finding that the child was in “imminent danger of sexual assault, death or serious bodily harm, among other things.”
Athena’s father, Jacob Strand, was not at home when Athena disappeared and Gandy, her mother, was living in Oklahoma. Athena was visiting her father and wanted to return to Gandy after the Christmas holidays. said the mother.
Authorities said Horner, 31, confessed to strangling Athena after he hit her with his truck and told them where to find her body.
Athena’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Horner, FedEx, and the subcontractor that Horner hired. BuzzFeed News reported.
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