Update: On Tuesday, June 13, 2023, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the “Athena Alert” bill into law. It went into effect immediately. Learn more about the Athena Alert and the AMBER Alert.
Maitlyn Gandy testified before a Texas House of Representatives committee on Tuesday, April 25, in support of an “Athena Alert” — a missing child alert bill that was filed in memory of her 7-year-old daughter, Athena Strand, who was kidnapped and killed by a FedEx Driver in December.
Athena Alert Bill in the Texas House
House Bill 3556, which is sponsored by State Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Sanger), would allow the chief law enforcement officer in a jurisdiction to issue a localized alert when a child is missing without confirmation of an abduction – the high threshold requirement needed to issue an AMBER Alert. The legislation is intended to close the gap between the time a child vanishes and an Amber Alert may be issued.
The legislation, if passed, would allow law enforcement to activate an alert in a localized area – within a 100-mile radius and contiguous counties – shortly after a child goes missing.
“If an AMBER Alert had been issued immediately – or some type of regional alert like what this bill proposes – it could have made a difference in my child’s life,” Gandy tearfully told the Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee. “But unfortunately, I didn’t get that courtesy.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, Athena went missing while playing in the front yard of her father’s Paradise home in rural Wise County. An Amber Alert wasn’t issued until the following afternoon when authorities determined that her disappearance met the strict criteria for an Amber Alert, which is codified in Texas Government Code 411.355 and requires law enforcement to believe a child has been abducted.
The following day, on Friday, Athena was found dead about six miles from her father’s home. A FedEx driver, Tanner Horner, was arrested and charged with capital murder in her killing and kidnapping. He is facing the death penalty.
“I begged from the moment that I got to her father’s property for an AMBER Alert,” Gandy testified before the committee. “I asked and I continued to ask and, unfortunately, I kept getting met with the same response – that she, and her case, did not meet the criteria for an Amber alert to be issued. It wasn’t until about 24 hours later that it was sent out. It was at 17:04 and I will never forget that time.”
Representative Lynn Stucky Sponsors Athena Alert Bill to Save Lives
Stucky, who represents Wise County as part of Texas House District 64, filed the “Athena Alert” bill in March after consulting with Gandy and her attorneys at the law firm of Varghese Summersett, which filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Horner, FedEx and contractor Big Topspin in March.
Stucky told the committee that if this law would have been in place last year, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin would have been able to issue a localized alert about the missing little girl almost immediately.
“In Wise County, we have a wonderful sheriff,” Stucky said. “…If he could have made the call, he would have, but he couldn’t. We need to change the law and implement an “Athena Alert.”
Gandy’s attorney, Benson Varghese, accompanied Gandy to the state Capitol on April 25 and also testified in support of HB3556. Varghese said the bill gives the head of local law enforcement the ability to get a limited, but possibly life-saving, message to the local public before there is specific evidence of an abduction.
“Because it is a limited alert, we believe more people will pay attention, and it can, potentially, save lives,” Varghese said.
After the hearing, Varghese also pointed out that there is no economic impact with the passage of this legislation. It won’t cost anything, as the AMBER Alert system is already in place. It just gives law enforcement more discretion and encourages people to be on heightened alert when they get a notification that a child is missing in their area.
“The reality is that, when we get an Amber Alert about someone in Texarkana, we aren’t keeping our eyes peeled in Fort Worth,” Varghese said. “With this alert, you know it’s local and, if you are paying attention, you might spot a missing child.
“It’s worthwhile, common sense legislation.”
The Need for Athena Alert
The Athena Alert does not replace the Amber Alert. It extends the existing system in the moments that are most critical in saving a child’s life by providing a localized alert before the criteria for a statewide AMBER Alert have been met.
NBC Coverage of Athena Alert Bill
ABC Coverage of Athena Alert Bill
Read more: CBS Coverage of Athena Alert Bill
What do you think about Representative Stucky’s Bill? Let us know in the comments below.