The family of a 9-year-old girl who died after she was shot by a man who had opened fire when he was robbed at an ATM in Houston said Wednesday the robbery victim wasn’t justified in his actions as he wasn’t in danger when he fired uncontrollably at their vehicle, striking the girl in the head.
“This was not self-defense,” said Armando Alvarez, the father of Arlene Alvarez, who died in a hospital on Tuesday, hours after she had been shot the night before.
During a news conference Wednesday, Arlene’s family and friends remembered her as an old soul who loved her two younger siblings and who enjoyed riding her scooter and making TikTok videos. Her mother, Gwen Alvarez, called Arlene, who was in fourth grade, her best friend and her queen.
“It just hurts me so much. It’s going to hurt me forever. I just want justice for my baby,” said a tearful and emotional Gwen Alvarez.
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Arlene Alvarez was sitting in the backseat of her family’s truck when she was shot as they drove by the scene of Monday evening’s robbery.
Police allege that after Tony Earls was robbed at gunpoint at the Chase Bank ATM in southeast Houston at around 9:45 p.m. on Monday, he got out of his vehicle and opened fire at the suspect.
Armando Alvarez said that when he and his family stumbled upon the robbery, the robber was at least 100 feet (30.48 meters) away from Earls, but Earls fired at him at least four times. The family’s truck tried to speed through the scene, but Earls fired at the vehicle while standing about 10 feet (3.05 meters) away, hitting the gas tank, Alvarez said.
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Police say Earls fired at the truck thinking the robbery suspect had possibly climbed into it.
Alvarez said he told his family to duck amid the gunfire. Everyone got down, except Arlene, who was wearing headphones.
“’Duck down Arlene.’ I didn’t scream loud enough. I didn’t know she had her earphones on,” said Gwen Alvarez, as she held a teddy bear with a recording of her daughter’s final heartbeats before she was taken off life support.
Rick Ramos, an attorney for the Alvarez family, said once the robber ran away and had his back toward Earls, he was no longer a threat and Earls became the aggressor as he fired indiscriminately.
Earls has been charged with aggravated assault, serious bodily injury, in the girl’s death and he remained jailed Wednesday on a $100,000 bond. Earls’ attorney did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Prosecutors say charges in the case could be upgraded. Arlene's family said they think Earls should not be released on bond.
Prosecutors say charges against Earls could be upgraded.
Ramos said the Alvarez family is also considering legal action against Chase bank, which owns the ATM where the robbery happened.
The ATM location has been the site of previous robberies in recent months, including one in October in which a woman, Mary Jane Gonzalez, was killed over $40. Ramos is representing Gonzalez’s family in a lawsuit against Chase.
Ramos said after the recent robberies, the bank has “done zero to prevent this from happening” by not providing extra security or other safety measures.
“We’re saddened by this tragic incident and offer our sincere condolences to the Alvarez family. We are working closely with local officials who are handling the investigation,” said Greg Hassell, a spokesman for Chase.
Police were still searching for the robbery suspect. They have not determined if that man returned fire or was shot.
Arlene was the second 9-year-old girl to be shot in Houston within a week. Ashanti Grant remains hospitalized after being shot in the head during a road rage attack on Feb. 8. Several children have been shot this year in the Houston area, including an 11-year-old boy who was killed on Feb. 3 as he walked from his apartment to his family’s car to get his coat.
Earlier this month, Houston officials announced a $44 million plan to tackle rising violent crime.
While overall crime in Houston dropped by 3.4% in 2021, the nation’s fourth largest city, like other major U.S. cities, has seen an increase in violent crime, particularly homicides.
As of Wednesday morning, Houston police had reported 64 homicides so far this year, a 36% increase from the same time period in 2021, when there were 47.
Arlene’s shooting death comes five months after a new law allowing Texans to carry handguns without first getting a background check and training took effect.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday that in the wake of Arlene’s death, there needs to be a review of the new law and what kind of impact it might be having on the increase in violence.
Abigail Solis, Arlene’s aunt, said she questioned why guns were “landing in the hands of irresponsible people” without proper training.
Solis said if she had been in a similar situation, she wouldn’t have thought, “Oh, let me grab my gun and just start shooting. I’m not going to start doing that... Where do you think your bullets are going?”