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Athena Strand’s mom says a newly passed Texas alert system could save lives

  Athena Strand's body was found after a two-day search in Wise county, northwest of Fort Worth.
Presley Strand family
Athena Strand's body was found after a two-day search in Wise county, northwest of Fort Worth.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed off on a new law Tuesday that will lower the threshold for local missing child alerts.

House Bill 3556 allows law enforcement in Texas to send out localized alerts — known as an "Athena Alert” — within a 100-mile radius of where a child has gone missing and in adjacent counties.

The law was inspired by the death of 7-year-old Athena Strand in November, who was found dead miles away from her father's Paradise, Texas home two days after she went missing. Police arrested former FedEx delivery driver Tanner Horner in connection with her death. He’s charged with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping.

KERA's Toluwani Osibamowo spoke to Athena's mother Maitlyn Gandy about how her tragedy inspired a change to Texas law.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

At what point in the grieving process of this past six months did you decide — or at least think — that something could be done to protect other kids in the form of legislation?

Gandy: Almost immediately, because I went into more of a numbing state at first. I didn't want to believe it was real. I prayed that someone had made a mistake and that it wasn't her.

At that time, I was saying, you know, maybe we can call it, like, "Athena's Law," but now it's "Athena's Alert" now that it's actually become real. So, it was pretty immediate, because when you're put into the situation that I was put into, to feel like you're not being heard, especially when it comes to your own child, it's hard, and it's something that I've talked to other parents that have unfortunately lost their children in similar circumstances to what I've lost Athena, and I think we all feel the same way.

A little bit about House Bill 3556 — which is as you called it the "Athena Alert” — law enforcement can put out an alert that is localized that doesn't necessarily require them to prove that a child has been abducted. Tell me and explain to me a little bit about how that relates to what happened the day Athena went missing.

Gandy: As soon as I got the phone call from Athena's dad and he told me the situation and what was going on, I started asking, "well, have they issued an AMBER Alert?" You know, I was two hours away, so if they had issued a statewide AMBER Alert in Texas, I wouldn't have received it more than likely. And he said no, that, you know, they were searching the property.

So, Athena's AMBER Alert wasn't issued until Dec. 1, a little after 5 p.m., so it had been about 24 hours since she was reported missing. And I feel like if there was an immediate alert that had been sent, we could have beat that time. And whether a child does wander off or a child is abducted, the community has the right to know.

The unfortunate side of everything is there will be another child that goes missing. There will be another child that's going to be murdered. I just pray that the bill can somehow prevent what happened to my daughter from happening to someone else.

Athena's story has understandably gotten a lot of attention and a lot of press, and I kind of want to know, when people like me come to you and are asking you questions like this — it is obviously a story, but what do people not understand about what it is to go through something like this?

Gandy: A lot of people say, "I can't imagine what you're going through," and the truth is that they can't. The pain that I imagined prior, the feelings that I imagined prior, you have no idea what it feels like. As a parent, your heart, your brain — you can't wrap it around those feelings.

But I can say it is — I've lost a lot of people in my life. I've lost my mom, I've lost grandparents, I've lost cousins, I've lost friends. I could relive every single one of their deaths over and over again, and it would never compare to how I feel about my daughter.

Got a tip? Email Toluwani Osibamowo at tosibamowo@kera.org. You can follow Toluwani on Twitter @tosibamowo.

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Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Toluwani Osibamowo