Arlene Alvarez, a 9-year-old Texas girl, was accidentally shot dead when a robbery victim opened fire on his attacker and missed.
Houston police said Alvarez and her family were riding past a bank on the city’s southeast side on Monday night, where 41-year-old Tony Earls had just been held up at gunpoint in an ATM drive through line. When the thief ran away, authorities said Earls began shooting at him.
“Earls first shot at the robbery suspect, who was fleeing on foot, and then at a pickup truck he thought the robbery suspect had gotten into,” the department said in a statement.
Arlene was struck in the head and quickly rushed to a nearby hospital. She succumbed to her injuries Tuesday, according to reports.
Before her death, Earls was charged with aggravated assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Prosecutors said the charge may be upgraded to murder, pending the results of the ongoing police investigation.
Meanwhile, the suspect who robbed Earls remains at large, and Houston police are seeking information from the public that may lead to his arrest.
Arlene Alvarez Shot Dead by Robbery Victim
According to the official statement from Houston police, Earls and his wife were using the ATM at a Chase Bank branch on Woodridge Drive at around 9:30 p.m. on Monday night, “when an unknown male robbed them.”
The suspect fled the scene on foot when Earls allegedly stepped out of his vehicle and opened fire.
In the Alvarez family’s pickup truck, Arlene’s father said he heard the shots and warned his wife and children to duck, but that his 9-year-old daughter was hearing headphones and did not hear him.
“I knew what had happened,” Armando Alvarez recalled to one local outlet. “I saw blood. I saw the bullet in the window already. I pulled over and I tried to turn around and by the time I turned around, [the shooter] was gone.”
He continued: “I was going to chase him but my other baby son was still with us. My first instinct was to grab Arlene.”
When police arrived at the bank at around 9:45 p.m., Arlene was unresponsive, and her parents’ truck “disabled.”
9-Year-Old Dies in Shooting
Emergency personnel rushed her to a nearby hospital, where she remained on life support before succumbing to her wound sometime on Tuesday. She was 9 years old.
Her mourning parents took to social media to grieve.
“Crazy how life can change in a blink of an eye … no matter how ready we think we are. We never are,” her dad wrote on Facebook. “I ended up working late today and could have taken the day off to spend the day with you. My baby is gone.”
“I DIDN’T KNOW SHE WAS WEARING HER EAR PHOOONES,” her mother Gwen Alvarez wrote in a post early Wednesday. “OMG I WISH IT WAS ALL A DREAM BUT ITS NOT, ITS F–KING REAL! I NEED THERAPY BECAUSE MY LIGHT HAS DIMMED DOWN!”
A vigil was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, to be held in the Chase Bank parking lot where Arlene’s alleged shooter was standing when he fired the fatal bullet — a site which Armando called “the location only for closure.”
Tony Earls May Face Murder Charge
Police said Earls went home after the shooting to report the robbery, and that he was not aware he’d shot the Alvarez truck until he spoke with authorities later that night.
On Tuesday, Houston officials said the 41-year-old was formally charged with aggravated assault resulting in serious bodily injury — a second-degree felony in Texas that carries a minimum 2-year prison stay, according to one legal source.
He remains in jail on $100,000 bond as of Wednesday, reports indicate.
After Arlene died from her injuries, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office told the Associated Press it would consider upgrading the charge to murder.
“Our hearts go out to the Alvarez family,” said spokesman Dan Schiller. “We are going to review all the evidence, apply the law and determine what charges are appropriate.”
Houston Police are continuing to investigate this shooting. Anyone with information in either this case or the robbery which preceded it is urged to contact the HPD Homicide Division at 713-308-3600.