Houston, TX – The man accused of fatally shooting a nine-year-old girl as he was attempting to defend himself against an armed robber at an ATM in February will not face criminal charges in connection with the little girl’s death.
Arlene Alvarez and her family happened to be driving by the scene of the armed robbery on their way to dinner on Feb. 14 when the robbery victim, Earls, opened fire on the unidentified man who had just held him and his wife up at gunpoint.
The bullet inadvertently struck the little girl in her head as she passed by in the backseat of her family’s passing pickup truck, CNN reported.
The critically wounded fourth-grader was rushed to Memorial Hermann Hospital, where she was placed on life support, KPRC reported.
She succumbed to her injuries the following day.
Earls was initially arrested on a charge of aggravated assault in connection with Arlene Alvarez’s death, KHOU reported.
The armed attacker who robbed Earls and his wife has not been identified or apprehended.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said she was disappointed with the grand jury’s refusal to indict Earls, but that she respected the jurors’ decision and that she would continue to focus her attention on indicting the armed robber who set the series of devastating events into motion, CNN reported.
“I just want to tell the family how saddened we are,” Ogg said on Tuesday. “We don’t have the luxury of disagreeing with the jury’s verdict, with the grand jury’s determination. But we have the ability to move forward and to catch the person who they’ve indicated is criminally responsible.”
The unidentified robbery suspect will be charged with felony murder when he is apprehended, the district attorney said.
A $30,000 reward is being offered for information leading to his arrest, CNN reported.
Surveillance video of robbery suspect wanted in what led to the fatal shooting of 9-yr-old Arlene Alvarez at 2900 Woodridge Dr on Monday (Feb. 14).
If you recognize him, call HPD Homicide 713-308-3600 or @CrimeStopHOU 713-222-TIPS.
— Houston Police (@houstonpolice) February 18, 2022
“We’re going to focus on catching the robbery suspect who started this chain of events,” Ogg said. “I know we can find this killer with your help. Someone knows who he is.”
Arlene Alvarez’s aunt, April Aguirre, also spoke to reporters during Ogg’s press conference on Tuesday, CNN reported.
“I wish it was Tony Earls who was found guilty, but I know that the decision is final with the grand jury,” Aguirre said. “I pray that we can find this person and bring him to justice…She didn’t deserve this ending.”
Myrecia Donaldson and Brennen Dunn, the attorneys representing Earls, said they were pleased the grand jury opted not to indict their client, CNN reported.
“We would first like to extend our condolences to the Alvarez family once more,” Donaldson and Dunn said in a joint statement to CNN. “There is no greater loss than that of a loved one, and we continue to grieve for the loss of such a beautiful soul.”
“We are relieved that, despite the emotion and tough decisions that had to be made in dealing with this case, justice was served for Mr. Earls. We do not envy the difficult task of the grand jury, but we certainly appreciate their careful deliberation,” they continued. “We stand in support of the Alvarez family as justice continues to be sought for Arlene Alvarez. Mr. Earls is prepared to assist authorities however he can, to bring the person responsible to justice.”
The series of events leading to Arlene Alvarez’s death began at approximately 9:45 p.m. on Feb. 14, when a gunman robbed Earls and his wife at gunpoint at a Chase bank drive-thru ATM, the Houston Police Department (HPD) said in a press release at the time.
The couple complied with the suspect’s demands to hand over cash, a check, and a wallet, at which point the gunman took their belongings and started to run off, CNN reported.
He allegedly threw Earls’ keys on the ground, so Earls got out of the vehicle to retrieve them, KHOU reported.
Dunn said that’s when the gunman fired a single round at him.
Earls began shooting back at the suspect, firing the round that ultimately hit Arlene Alvarez, prosecutors said.
“I could hear her talking real low to her dad and her dad was talking to her trying to comfort her,” said Joe Maldonado, who drove up to the scene shortly after the shooting.
“The mom was really, she was hysterical, she was basically just running around in circles around the dad and the daughter just looking up at the sky. It was pretty scary to see that,” Maldonado told KHOU.
Her father, Armando Alvarez, said the bullet hit her near her temple and remained lodged towards the back of her head, according to the Associated Press.
“She passed away in my arms,” he said. “I don’t wish this on nobody. If you’ve got kids, hold them tight.”
Dunn said his client never intended to shoot the little girl.
“It’s been eating him up inside,” he told KHOU. “This has him up all night, every night.”
The Alvarez family said they are planning to sue the bank where the robbery occurred and alleged it has been a frequent hotspot for other criminal activity.
The HPD said it is looking into the possibility that the gunman who robbed Earls could have been the same suspect who murdered a woman at the same location in October of last year, KPRC reported.