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Mother of slain 7-year-old Athena Strand speaks out, ‘struggling with her senseless murder’

A FedEx driver is charged with kidnapping and killing the 7-year-old on Nov. 30.
/ Source: TODAY

Maitlyn Gandy, the mother of 7-year-old Texas girl Athena Strand, is mourning the loss of her daughter and speaking out about the pain her family is experiencing. 

On Nov. 30, Athena disappeared from her home in Paradise, Texas. Her body was found two days later. 

In a heartbreaking press conference covered by NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth on Thursday, Dec. 8, Gandy gave a statement about the abduction and death of her daughter. 

Athena Strand's mother, Maitlyn Gandy, speaks at a press conference on Dec. 8 about her daughter's abduction and death.
Athena Strand's mother, Maitlyn Gandy, speaks at a press conference on Dec. 8 about her daughter's abduction and death.Couresty NBCDFW

“Good morning, thank you all for being here. My name is Maitlyn Gandy and I’m the mommy of Athena Presley Monroe Strand,” she began as her voice broke.

Gandy gestured to a stand that displayed a package of Barbie dolls that was supposed to be a Christmas gift for her daughter.

“Athena was robbed of the opportunity to grow up to be anything she wanted to be,” Gandy said. “And this present, ordered out of innocence and love, is one she will never receive.” 

She shared that her daughter’s favorite holiday was Christmas.

“The joy Athena gave her family and the joy she felt on Christmas, is something we will never feel with her again,” the mother said. 

Gandy explained that Athena was abducted when she was visiting her stepmother and father in Paradise, Texas. She had planned to bring her daughter back to their home in Oklahoma after the Christmas break. 

“Now, instead, Athena will be cremated and she will come home in an urn because I am not anywhere close to being ready to let my baby go,” she said.

As she started to cry, Gandy continued, “I will never see her bright blue eyes or her ornery smile again. I will never be able to hear her say, ‘I love you, mommy.’ I will never be able to do her hair again or to hold her while she sleeps.” 

She said that Athena’s killer “robbed” her of watching her daughter grow up. 

“Tomorrow will be the last time I will see my baby,” Gandy shared. “After tomorrow, when the silence sets in, Athena’s family, including her three young sisters, will start the journey of all the ‘firsts’ without her.”

She listed her 27th birthday, Athena’s little sister’s third birthday and their family’s Christmas Eve tradition as a few of the moments they will not get to experience with Athena. 

“The first time in seven years of not hearing and seeing the excitement of Athena opening gifts from Santa and Sissy,” she added.

Gandy encouraged all the parents listening to hold their children closer. She then thanked her community for the love and support she has received since Athena was reported missing. 

“I have felt your prayers, read your messages and letters, and I see your pink everywhere,” said the mom, whose hair was dyed pink. 

She also expressed her gratitude for law enforcement and the media for reporting Athena’s story. 

Gandy said, “I want everyone to know Athena. She was an amazing little girl who loved dancing, singing and all animals -- dogs, cats, horses, lizards, chinchillas. She also loved school and all her friends in the first grade, who are now also struggling with her senseless murder.”

Athena’s mom said she knows the 7-year-old’s death “will not be in vain.”

She said, “I will spend the rest of my life fighting for her so that no other family will endure such unbearable pain and grief. A monster attempted to take Athena’s voice, but we are her voice.” 

At the end of her statement, Gandy concluded, “Please help me keep Athena’s light shining.”

According to the affiliate, a private funeral will be held on Friday, Dec. 9. 

After Athena’s disappearance was reported, around 200 volunteers from the community helped search for the young girl. On Dec. 2, officials confirmed that a FedEx contract driver in Texas was arrested and accused of kidnapping and murdering Athena. 

Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin told reporters at a news conference that Athena’s body was found southeast of the city of Boyd, a city around 11 miles away. 

“We do have a confession,” Akin said at the conference.

Officials did not reveal a motive or say how the girl died during the conference. However, Akin shared that investigators believe Athena died within an hour of the abduction. 

FedEx released a statement on Twitter in response to the tragedy and said the company is cooperating with law enforcement. “Words cannot describe our shock and sorrow at the reports surrounding this tragic event,” the company said.” 

After Gandy spoke at the press conference on Dec. 8, her attorney, Benson Varghese, answered questions about the next steps for the family. 

“By doing a thorough investigation, cooperating with law enforcement, we will uncover every person who is responsible, through their actions or inactions, for the tragedy that happened,” he said. 

He also told reporters, “The ultimate goal here is to ensure that no parent, grandparent or family member feels the loss that Maitlyn’s going through right now. That’s our ultimate goal. So, wherever that investigation takes us and whoever we find responsible are people that are going to have to face a reckoning.”