A Wise County Baptist church hosted on Dec. 6 a candlelight vigil to honor the memory of Athena Strand, the 7-year-old girl who was allegedly abducted and killed last week by a FedEx driver.
Details of the Vigil
Thousands trooped to the First Baptist Church Cottondale in Florida on Dec. 6 to show solidarity with a community reeling from the shocking tragedy.
Maitlyn Gandy, Athena's mother, spoke to the crowd as the vigil began.
"Thank you all, and please, I don't care if it's five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now, remember Athena Strand," CBS DFW reported.
Athena's teacher at Paradise ISD also spoke at the event, which featured the attendees reciting prayers and singing in unison.
Athena's family lived just a mile from the church, which is why the church has become a shrine in her memory. Locals placed flowers, crosses, and pink teddy bears, as well as T-shirts, balloons, and ribbons in Athena's favorite color, pink.
According to one resident, the kid's death sent shockwaves to the entire community.
"It affects everybody. She was somebody's child. She was somebody's sister," Paradise local Suzanne Robinson told the news outlet.
The young girl's aunt also shared her sentiments about her niece's gruesome death.
"It was very hard going through this mentally, and the tragedy, and I just got one question for him... what possessed him to do this to her?" Michelle Swinney told CBS DFW.
Local Community Bands Together for Strand's Family
The local Paradise community reportedly showed unity in expressing sympathy and support to the young girl's loved ones.
Charles Pugh, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Cottondale, told the news outlet that the community's reaction to the tragedy surprised him. Local companies pitched in for the sound system, lighting, stage, candles, and portable toilets. Meanwhile, local police provided security for the vigil.
Aside from the vigil at the First Baptist Church of Cottondale, there was a simultaneous candlelight vigil at Cafe Republic in nearby Fort Worth.
Event organizers hoped the vigils would allow the community to reflect on the tragedy and show the Strand family their love and support amid such a trying time.
Athena's Mother Laments Daughter's Death
In a separate report by Fox News, Athena's mother, Maitlyn, took to Facebook to share her pain over her daughter's death.
"Daddy and mommy were scared of how beautiful she has always been and we feel like we failed you. No one deserves what happened to you, but especially you. I love you and love doesn't even cover it. Mommy is broken without you," Maitlyn wrote.
She also expressed in another post her desire for people not to remember her daughter as just a murder victim.
"I don't want her to be the girl known as the one murdered and discarded by a monster. I want everyone to know, every single person in this world, that this is my baby and my baby was taken from me," she posted.
Police have identified the suspect as 30-year-old Tanner Lynn Horner, a FedEx contract driver. Horner faces aggravated kidnapping and capital murder charges in connection with Strand's death, Fox News said.