FedEx driver Tanner Horner is believed to have kidnapped and killed 7-year-old Athena Strand in "a crime of opportunity" while delivering a package outside her home this week, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said.
Although Athena's cause of death hasn't been determined, "we do believe she died by his hand," Akin said in an exclusive interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. It does not appear that the child was hit by the FedEx truck, he said.
Complete autopsy results from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office could take a couple of weeks, the sheriff said. Investigators believe Athena died within an hour of her abduction.
Asked about Horner's motive for abducting the girl, Akin said, "To me, it's a crime of opportunity." Authorities said Horner did not know Athena or her family.
Athena had been missing for about 48 hours when her body was found along the water's edge of the Trinity River near Boyd on Friday evening. Horner confessed to the crime and told authorities where to find her body, the sheriff said.
Akin said he doesn't expect further updates Saturday on the investigation, which is almost complete. Law enforcement is working on turning the case over to prosecutors to formally file charges.
Horner is expected to be charged by the state of Texas with capital murder of a person under 10 years old and aggravated kidnapping. He isn't expected to face federal charges, though the FBI provided valuable assistance to the investigation, Akin said.
Investigators have had conversations with the district attorney's office about seeking the death penalty in this case, the sheriff said.
Horner, 31, is from Fort Worth. He does not appear to have a prior criminal record in Tarrant or Wise counties. He remained in the Wise County Jail on Saturday with bond set at $1.5 million. It's not clear if he has an attorney.
FedEx issued a statement late Friday, saying, "Words cannot describe our shock and sorrow at the reports surrounding this tragic event. 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."