It was a soulful and somber ceremony Tuesday night for Athena Strand, the 7-year-old at the center of an Amber Alert that was issued last week.
Hundreds of people gathered to remember the little girl who was found dead Friday evening.
The vigil, at First Baptist Church of Cottondale, was not far from where authorities say Athena was abducted and then killed by a FedEx delivery driver.
Athena’s mother Maitlyn Gandy spoke publicly for the first time since her daughter’s death.
“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, she really was,” said Gandy.
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Who Athena was, she said, was a bubbly girly-girl who loved animals and the color pink
At the vigil, Athena’s first-grade teacher Lindsey Thompson said she’ll never forget Athena’s smile, voice laugh and sense of style.
“I now have 18 of my favorite 6 and 7-year-olds that are sad and hurting because they no longer have a friend and classmate,” said Thompson.
The pastor at First Baptist Church of Cottondale announced more than 900 candles were given out before the vigil and that the line of cars waiting to arrive was backed up for miles.
A member of the Wise County Sheriff’s Office and several local pastors spoke also spoke at the vigil.
One pastor said a question he’s received frequently is “’Why didn't God save Athena?’ My answer is he did.”
Gandy thanked the volunteers who searched for her daughter and the first responders who helped bring her family closure.
She had one request for those touched by Athena’s story. “I don't care if it’s five years from now, 10 years from now, remember Athena Strand,” said Gandy.