Texas lawmakers voted Wednesday to pass a bill for a localized version of the Amber Alert system that would allow police to notify people within a 100-mile radius as soon as a child goes missing.
The so-called Athena Alert bill is named after Athena Strand, the 7-year-old girl who was allegedly kidnapped and killed by a FedEx driver delivering a package to her home in rural Wise County on November 30. Her body was found in December. 2, less than 10 miles from the home of her father and her stepmother. Tanner Horner has pleaded not guilty to capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges and is being held on $1.5 million bail.
The legislation now goes to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who must sign it before it becomes law. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Republican State Representative Lynn Stucky, author Bill 3556told the Texas House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety that the Wise County Sheriff would have been able to issue a localized alert almost immediately if Athena Alert had been active at the time.
“I am grateful to my colleagues in the Senate for sending my bill, HB 3556, to the desk of @GovAbbott,” Stucky he tweeted on fridayusing the Governor’s Twitter handle. “A special thank you to Athena’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy, for coming to Austin to testify in support.”
“Had this alert been active when my daughter went missing, I have no doubt that the Wise County Sheriff’s Office would have activated it,” said Gandy, the mother, quoted in a press release issued by her attorneys.
“Unfortunately, her hands were tied because my daughter’s disappearance did not immediately meet the strict criteria for a statewide AMBER alert. It was a feeling of helplessness that I would not wish on any parent. My hope is that every state will follow Texas’ example and change the law so that no other parent has to wait when his child goes missing.”
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin told HuffPost that his office “deeply appreciates” Stucky’s efforts with the Athena Alert bill.
“With your approval, law enforcement will be able to make a local decision and send out 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 does happen again and if they decide to do so, 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 an Amber Alert was not issued until the following afternoon.
At the time, Akin said Athena’s stepmother had told police that she and the girl had had an argument. Authorities did not suspect foul play and believed she might have run away, the sheriff said. told CBS last year.
“At first we thought it was just another missing child, a missing child who would be found in a matter of minutes.” Akin told HuffPost on Friday. “But, that was not the case. We were unable to issue an Amber Alert because, at the time, the details of the case did not meet the criteria established by the Texas Department of Public Safety.”
He state amber alert criteria include “a preliminary investigation [that has] verified the abduction and eliminated alternative explanations for the child’s disappearance,” and a determination by police that the child is in “immediate danger of sexual assault, death, or serious bodily injury,” among other factors.
Athena’s father, Jacob Strand, was not home when Athena disappeared, and Gandy, her mother, lived in Oklahoma. Athena was visiting her father and had to return to Gandy’s house after Christmas vacation. said the mother.
Authorities said Horner, 31, confessed to strangling Athena after hitting 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 hired Horner. BuzzFeed News reported.
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