In the wake of the kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Athena Strand in Texas, allegedly at the hands of a contract FedEx delivery driver, scrutiny is mounting over whether shipping companies are doing enough to vet the thousands of drivers hired each year to meet the demand for deliveries during the holiday season.
Strand's body was found late Friday night after she went missing on Wednesday. Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said investigators believe that the suspect, a 30-year-old contract driver for FedEx named Tanner Lynn Horner, kidnapped the girl and killed her in a "crime of opportunity" while making a delivery to her family's home in North Texas.
Horner has been charged with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping. The sheriff said he admitted to abducting Strand when questioned.
A spokesperson for FedEx said in a statement to Fox Business, "Our thoughts remain with the family of Athena Strand during this most difficult time. Words cannot express our shock and sorrow surrounding this tragic event and we continue to cooperate fully with the investigating authorities."
The kidnapping and murder of Strand is the latest of several violent crimes committed by delivery drivers in recent years. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted that in the last two years, FedEx drivers were charged with murder, rape, arson and break-ins. Several of those crimes were committed after the drivers scouted for opportunities while on their routes.
Each year during the holiday season, FedEx and other shipping companies like UPS staff up to meet the demand for package deliveries, which poses a challenge for vetting drivers, given the volume of applicants.
For example, UPS announced earlier this year that it would hire more than 100,000 employees to serve as drivers and work in distribution centers amid the seasonal shipping surge. Both full-time and temporary workers are hired as employees, and UPS told Fox Business that its seasonal drivers go through background checks as part of the hiring process.
FedEx hasn't specified how many workers it will add this year, although the number of seasonal additions has been reported as being in the thousands in prior years. The company regularly contracts with independent businesses that have their own employees as a means of bolstering its capacity.
The FedEx spokesperson explained the company's process for hiring contract drivers in the following statement to Fox Business: "Throughout the year, FedEx Ground contracts with independent businesses that provide package pickup and delivery services using their own employees, vehicles, and equipment. There is no higher priority for us – and our network of 6,000 service provider companies – than ensuring the safety of our operations within the communities we serve."
"As is common across the industry and considered standard practice, employees of service provider businesses are subject to a criminal history background check as part of the eligibility process," the FedEx spokesperson continued. "Should we become aware of any criminal activity within our network, we work swiftly to investigate and address those incidents, including cooperating with law enforcement."