DALLAS — The murder of 7-year-old Athena Strand in Wise County spread grief, anger, and disbelief across Texas and across the country. And the horrendous crime also created additional unintended victims: other delivery drivers who say they are being verbally attacked and feared on their daily delivery routes.
"We've had drivers who have been called murderers over Ring cameras," said Tamra Steffens who works for Team AIO Logistics, a contractor for a major package delivery company in north Texas. "Children have run away from us in fear. They're all scared. They're very scared. The drivers even from all over have been saying you know that kids have come up to them and said, 'Why did you do this?' or, 'We can't trust you anymore.'"
"It started out everybody was being pretty harsh on us," said Team AIO delivery driver Ashley Creed who decided she wanted to do something about it.
She created a TikTok video, a campaign called "your babies are safe on my route." Set to music, it features drivers from UPS, Fed Ex, Amazon and more sharing their own grief and pledging to be vigilant to keep anything like Athena's murder from ever happening again.
The videos and messages have now been shared hundreds of thousands of times. The hope is that it will change opinions and not have all drivers judged by the actions of one person.
"That was the important thing was please don't stigmatize all drivers because it would not be fair to them for this one senseless tragic act," said Alex Childress, owner of Team AIO Logistics.
Investigators in Wise County say that Tanner Horner, 31, a contract driver for Fed Ex, confessed to killing the girl allegedly because he accidentally hit Athena with his delivery vehicle. He told investigators that he, inexplicably, chose to kill the girl, thinking he could cover up the incident and not get in trouble by the girl telling her father.
Additional details and clarification on Horner's confession are expected when he appears in court as early as this week.
"That the world can see we stand together with the community against this act of violence," said Tamra Steffens of the impact she hopes their viral video will now have. "That just because we're delivery drivers doesn't mean that we're the same. We feel the parents. We feel the community's cries. We understand why they're upset. And hopefully it brings a different light to the world to know that we're different and we can fix this one delivery at a time."
"And I've been preaching to our team that we have to show the world that they can trust us again," she said of the Team AIO employees she leads in McKinney. "We have to be the ones to take that initiative because it's not going to come from anybody else other than delivery drivers."
And, after a week of mistrust on their routes, Ashley Creed says they have seen evidence that the TikTok campaign is working.
"Since the 'your babies are safe on my route' went viral, there's been an outpouring of love from everybody now," she said.
A positive outpouring that they hope will continue as they share their grief too for the loss of an innocent young girl.