The mother of Athena Strand – a 7-year-old Texas girl who was found dead last week after being missing for several days – has spoken in public for the first time since her daughter’s passing, saying she wants to „keep her face and her story alive.“

Maitlyn Gandy made the remarks Tuesday during a candlelight vigil at the First Baptist Church of Cottondale that was attended by thousands of people in Paradise, Texas, according to Fox4.

„I just want you all to know that she was amazing, and she would truthfully love every single one of you because she loves every human that she has ever met and every animal that she has ever met,“ Gandy said.

„And I just wanted to say thank you to all the volunteers and just coming out and supporting her. Even if you guys did not look for her, I know people were sharing her story all over social media,“ Gandy continued. „I just want to keep her face and her story alive because I want everyone to know Athena for Athena, and not for what someone tried to make her out to be, because she’s the best little girl.“

MOTHER OF ATHENA STRAND POSTS EMOTIONAL TRIBUTES: ‘NO ONE DESERVES THIS’ 

Maitlyn Gandy, Athena Strand's mother, addresses a crowd at a candlelight vigil in Paradise, Texas, on Dec. 6, 2022.

Maitlyn Gandy, Athena Strand’s mother, addresses a crowd at a candlelight vigil in Paradise, Texas, on Dec. 6, 2022. (KDFW)

Athena Strand was found dead in Boyd, Texas, on Friday, outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Tanner Lynn Horner, a 30-year-old contract driver for FedEx, is charged with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping in connection to Strand’s death.

Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin described the girl’s abduction as a „crime of opportunity,“ explaining that Horner allegedly admitted to abducting Strand while delivering a package to her North Texas home on Wednesday. The girl’s stepmother reported her missing. Two days later, the girl’s body was found less than 10 miles from her father’s home. The suspect reportedly did not know the victim or the girl’s family.

Athena Strand, 7, was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by 30-year-old FedEx delivery driver Tanner Lynn Horner.

Athena Strand, 7, was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by 30-year-old FedEx delivery driver Tanner Lynn Horner. (Wise County Sheriff’s Office)

Strand was reportedly staying with her father and stepmother in Texas before she was to return to her mother, Maitlyn Gandy, in Oklahoma around Christmas. 

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The motive for the crime has not been disclosed.

A photo of 7-year-old Athena Strand, whose body was found on Dec. 2, 2022.

A photo of 7-year-old Athena Strand, whose body was found on Dec. 2, 2022. (White Settlement Police Department)

„I don’t care if it is five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now — remember Athena Strand,“ Gandy said Tuesday. 

Fox News’ Danielle Wallace and Lawrence Richard contributed to this report.

Greg Norman is a reporter at Fox News Digital.