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A 9-year-old Texas girl who was accidentally shot by the victim of a drive-thru ATM robbery on Valentine’s Day has died, according to family members and officials.
Arlene Alvarez died early Tuesday, just hours after being shot by the alleged victim of a robbery.
Tony Earls, 41, was at a drive-thru ATM on Monday with his wife, according to a criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com, when a man approached and robbed them. Earls then allegedly opened fire on a suspected thief, who fled on foot.
Alvarez was sitting in a pickup truck with her family, who had stopped at the same bank on their way to a Valentine’s Day dinner.
“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,” Houston Police said in a statement. The suspect had, in fact, not gotten into the vehicle; Arlene Alverez was shot while sitting in the backseat.
Alvarez’s parents and younger brother, who were also inside the vehicle, were unharmed in the incident. Earls was arrested and charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury in the incident. The unidentified robbery suspect is currently at large.
The 9-year-old’s family confirmed her death on social media on Feb. 15.
“It’s hard,” Armando Alvarez, 32, told Oxygen.com on Tuesday. “It’s kind of still fresh. Everything happened in front of my eyes and she left in my hands. I couldn’t do nothing about it.”
The Harris County Institute Of Forensic Sciences is now conducting an autopsy on Alvarez. Preliminary findings, including cause and manner of death, haven’t officially been released.
The Texas family had previously shared a heartbreaking image of their gravely wounded daughter in a hospital bed with a bandaged head and a swollen face shortly before her death. She appeared to be on a ventilator.
Alvarez, who was behind the wheel of the truck when the family pulled into the bank, said that he saw Earls firing his weapon and frantically attempted to drive out of the bank’s parking lot to avoid being caught in the line of fire.
“As we approached the bank, we see a person running from the scene and the shooter shooting towards us,” he said.
“These bullets can hit me, my wife, my kids," Alvarez added. "My first instinct was to go faster, to kind of avoid the dangerous scenario but, as I went faster, the guy aimed towards me.”
The 32-year-old electrician now believes that trying to drive away from the violence drew more gunfire towards him.
“He continued to spray our vehicle with bullets, four to five bullets, one of them hitting my gas tank, one of them hitting my daughter,” he said. “He was spraying the vehicle — within 10 feet of my truck.”
The 9-year-old girl’s family, who have planned a vigil for Wednesday, are now calling for upgraded manslaughter or murder charges to be pressed against Earls. Alvarez described his daughter’s alleged killer as “cowardly.”
“That’s murder in my book,” Armando Alvarez said. “I just want to make sure he doesn’t get out. That status needs to be changed to murder. Just as fast as I lost my daughter, these updates need to be done.”
Prosecutors declined to comment on the possibility of upgraded murder charges on Tuesday afternoon.
“The case remains under investigation,” Dane Schiller, the Director of Communications for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, told Oxygen.com. “We are going to learn all we can about exactly what happened and make charging determinations based on the evidence.”
Earls is currently being held on a $100,000 bond at a Harris County detention facility, according to online jail records.
“He can come out quick — my daughter can’t come back,” Alvarez said.
Earl's next court date is set for Feb. 17. His public defender, Antonio Rodrigo Vallejo, didn’t immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment on the open case on Wednesday.
Armando Alvarez, who has two other young sons, described his late daughter as a “caring,” “kind,” and “loving” young woman. The 9-year-old aspired to be a hair stylist like her mother, who owns a beauty salon, her father said, and adored TikTok.
“She touched a lot of hearts,” Armando Alvarez said. “She always wanted to be viral, to be known. She wanted to be somebody.”
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