A bill moving through the Texas Legislature aims to close the gap between the time a child is missing and when an Amber Alert can be issued.
House Bill 3556, sponsored by Texas Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Sanger, would allow the head of local law enforcement to issue a localized alert when a child is missing without confirmation of an abduction. That is the high threshold requirement needed to issue an Amber Alert.
Dubbed an “Athena Alert”, the bill unanimously passed the Texas House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety. It was named after Athena Strand, the 7-year-old girl who vanished from her Paradise home in Nov. 2022 and found dead two days later.
A Wise County grand jury charged Tanner Horner, a package delivery who delivered packages to Strand’s home the day she disappeared, with kidnapping and murder. According to police, Horner confessed that he accidentally hit the girl with his truck and panicked when she said she would tell her dad. Horner said he killed the girl with his bare hands and then dumped her body.
Strand’s mother Maitlyn Gandy testified before the Texas House committee this week and recalled asking for an Amber Alert to be issued as soon as she found out her daughter was missing.
“Unfortunately, I kept getting met with the same response that she, in her case, did not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert to be issued,” Gandy said. “I don’t want someone to feel how I feel. I don’t want a mother to have to carry home an urn with her children’s ashes. I don’t want to watch another grandparent mourn the way my dad did.”
The legislation, if passed, would allow law enforcement to activate an alert in a localized area within a 100-mile radius and neighboring counties shortly after a child goes missing. Benson Varghese, Gandy’s attorney, also testified in Austin this week.
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Issuing the ‘Athena alert’ would be up to the discretion of law enforcement officials, Varghese said.
“There’s a reason the threshold is so high for an Amber Alert. It’s because it is a statewide notification that could even go to multiple states,” he said. “Now having this tool that allows law enforcement to get the word out would be really helpful, particularly in rural areas. In an urban environment, you’ve got lots of media coverage but the farther out you, the less coverage you might have. Less systems you’ll have in place to get a word out like this.”
With the bill passing the committee without objection, supporters of the bill are hoping it will be fast-tracked for a House vote.