The state of Texas appears set to change its AMBER Alert system after it failed to help Athena Strand, a 7-year-old girl who was kidnapped and strangled to death last November.
Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, was arrested and charged with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping in the death of Strand and is currently being held in the Wise County Jail on $1.5 million bond as prosecutors seek the death penalty.
The Lone Star State’s legislators voted Wednesday approving a new version of the state’s AMBER Alert system that has been called ‘the Athena Alert Bill,’ led by State Representative Lynn Stucky.
The new law would allow authorities to notify people within a 100-mile radius of a missing child as soon as they are reported missing.
At the time Strand disappeared, she did not meet the state’s criteria for an alert, which includes a preliminary investigation and law enforcement being able to determine the child is in ‘immediate danger.’
Athena’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy, testified in favor of the law and believes it could have helped save her daughter’s life.
‘If this alert had been in place when my daughter disappeared, I have no doubt that the Wise County Sheriff’s Office would have activated it,’ Gandy said in a statement after the bill passed.
‘Unfortunately, their hands were tied because my daughter’s disappearance didn’t immediately meet the strict criteria for a statewide AMBER alert. It was a helpless feeling that I wouldn’t wish on any parent. My hope is that every state will follow Texas’ lead and amend the law so that no other parent has to wait when their child is missing.’
Wise County Sheriff Lane Aiken was appreciative of both Gandy and State Representative Lynn Stucky’s efforts to pass the bill.
‘With its passage, law enforcement will be able to make a local judgement call and send out an alert that may help bring a child home to his\her parents,’ Akin told HuffPo.
‘Hopefully, we will never need to make that judgement call, but if it does happen again and if so decided, we have an additional tool to help us recover a missing child.’
The legislation must be signed into law by Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott before it can go into effect.
Horner entered a not guilty plea in Wise County back in March. District Attorney James Stainton filed court documents in federal court informing the judge that he will seek the death penalty against Horner if he is found guilty of capital murder.