'Loving, Friendly' 7-Year-Old Girl Vanishes from Her Texas Home — and a Search Is Underway

MISSING CHILD: Athena Strand, 7, Paradise, Texas
MISSING CHILD: Athena Strand, 7, Paradise, Texas

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Officials in Texas are searching for a young girl who vanished from her home earlier this week.

Texas' Department of Public Safety issued an AMBER Alert on Thursday for 7-year-old Athena Strand, who was last seen Wednesday evening on County Road in Paradise.

Authorities believe Strand's health and safety "are in danger," according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said Strand's stepmother reported the girl missing on Wednesday after noticing she was not in her room, according to ABC affiliate WFAA and NBC affiliate KXAS-TV.

She contacted authorities after searching for the child for an hour.

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Strand and her stepmother allegedly got into "a little bit of an argument" shortly before the child went missing, Akin said, according to KXAS. The disagreement, he added, wasn't "anything unusual."

"Then step-mom went to fix dinner, came back to get Athena, and Athena wasn't in her room," Akin also said.

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Officials have not ruled out that Strand was abducted, according to CBS affiliate KTVT. "It could be any number of things," Akin acknowledged, "and we're looking at all those possibilities."

A possibility, according to authorities, is that Strand could have walked away from the home and then got lost. But relatives of the missing girl aren't so sure, noting that she is afraid of the dark.

"We definitely don't believe Athena ran off," Athena's aunt Keeland Kulbeth told KXAS.

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Strand was last seen wearing a gray long sleeve shirt with white flowers, blue jeans with white flowers on the pockets, and a pair of brown boots, according to the NCMEC and Texas DPS. She also has two red birthmarks on her lower back.

The AMBER Alert was not issued until Thursday because Strand's family told the sheriff that she had wandered off before, WFAA reported, and officials had hoped to find the child overnight but were unsuccessful.

The Wise County Sheriff's Office said multiple agencies, including a K-9 unit, are assisting in the search for Strand. Approximately 200 citizens have helped scour 50 acres of land for the missing girl, according to WFAA.

Wise County Office of Emergency Management said donations of food, flashlights, and water "have poured in" since the AMBER Alert went out Thursday.

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"The outpouring of support from this community has been overwhelming today," the agency said in a late-night post on Facebook.

Kulbeth described Strand to KXAS as "a very loving, friendly kid" who loves people, animals, and flowers.

"I'm scared," Kulbeth told the outlet, "and I'm hoping that we find her 'cause I wouldn't want anyone to be in this right now."

But officials are determined to find the girl, no matter what. "We're not going to give up," Akin said, KXAS reported. "We're going to keep working."

Anyone with information about Strand's whereabouts is asked to call the Wise County Sheriff's Office at 940-627-5971.