Mother of 9-year-old shot to death during ATM robbery speaks out: 'I didn't scream loud enough'

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Parents of a 9-year-old girl are demanding justice after she was shot to death in the middle of an armed robbery in southeast Houston.

Arlene Alvarez was shot in the head on her way to get pizza with her family for Valentine's Day.

The family planned to stop at the Chase Bank in the 2900 block of Woodridge Drive on their way to make a deposit, according to her father Armando.

As they approached the bank in their Ford F250 truck, Armando said they saw a man, later identified as Tony Earls, getting robbed at gunpoint at the ATM.

ORIGINAL REPORT: 9-year-old dies after being shot by robbery victim in SE Houston, authorities say

The robbery suspect ran and police said Earls shot at the unknown suspect. Police believe Earls thought the suspect got into the Alvarez family's truck as they drove by and fired several times at them.

"I told everybody to get down," Armando said. "Arlene was the only one who didn't get down. She had her headphones in."

Arlene's mother, Gwen, interrupted as she replayed the series of events that night.

"'Duck down, Arlene,'" she said crying. "'Duck down, Arlene.' I didn't scream loud enough. I didn't know she had her headphones on."

The emotional family held a news conference Wednesday with about 20 family members, friends and their attorney present.
The family's attorney, Rick Ramos, said Earls was not acting in self-defense.

"Once you take your gun and you run off and you have your back turned to the individual you robbed, that individual is no longer an immediate threat or fear of imminent safety," Ramos said. "At that point in time, you lose your right to self-defense because the threat is gone."

Ramos said they also plan to take legal action against Chase Bank for not acting in some way to protect their customers knowing the level of crime in the area.

Ramos also represents Mary Jane Gonzalez's widower, Hector. Gonzalez was killed at the same Chase Bank back in October of 2021.

Its an on-going escalation of habitual violent crimes including two murders in the last five months, Ramos said of the Gulfgate location.

SEE RELATED STORY: Husband's message to suspect who shot wife over $40 at bank ATM in SE Houston: 'Get a job'

A spokesperson for the bank did not want to comment about pending litigation but did send the following statement:

"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."

Earls is charged with aggravated assault serious bodily injury. He was released from jail Thursday night after posting bail on a $100,000 bond.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office said they are working to upgrade the charge against Earls, who was charged before the little girl died in the hospital.

Sepi Zimmer, a prosecutor with the DA's Office said they must present the upgraded charges to a grand jury first.

"It was unfortunate for both families, but there is one family that lost a child. It was senseless it was tragic and quite frankly its happening way too much," said Zimmer.

Armando said he does not have anything to say to the man accused of killing his daughter.

The family is overcome with grief after the sudden loss of Arlene.

"We would always play," Leslie Castellanos, the child's young cousin, said. "We would have so much fun ever since we were little."

Arlene was turning 10 years old this year, and her mother said they were in the process of planning her birthday.

"This year she was so excited to turn 10," Gwen said. "We were preparing to take her photoshoots and buy her gowns. Now I'm getting ready for her funeral."

Arlene attended De Zavala Elementary. Houston ISD issued the following statement:

"HISD grieves the loss of a De Zavala Elementary School student who died Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, while off campus. We offer our deepest sympathy to the student's family, friends and the entire school community. Counselors have been made available to support students and staff at this difficult time."

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