Mom of 9-Year-Old Girl Killed in ATM Robbery Says 'I Didn't Scream Loud Enough'

The family of a 9-year-old girl who was fatally shot following a robbery in Houston has described their heartache during an emotional press conference.

Arlene Alvarez died after she was shot in her family vehicle outside a Chase bank branch by a suspect later identified as Tony D. Earls, 41.

Houston Police said Earls fired at Alvarez's family after mistakenly believing a man who had just robbed him and his wife at the Chase ATM drive-thru at 2900 Woodridge Drive had entered the vehicle to try and escape. The shooting took place at about 9:45 p.m. on Monday, February 14.

Arlene, who was sitting in the rear passenger seat, was struck during the shooting. She was taken to hospital in a critical condition but died the next day.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, the girl's father, Armando Alvarez, said he yelled at his family to "get down" when the shooting started, but Arlene was the only one who didn't hear as she had her headphones in.

Whilst crying, the girl's mother, Gwen Alvarez, said: "'Duck down, Arlene.' I didn't scream loud enough. I didn't know she had her headphones on."

Police confirmed that the family had nothing to do with the robbery at the ATM. The family of five were traveling together to go get pizza to celebrate Valentine's Day.

Gwen Alvarez also described the shock and panic she was going through in the wake of the shooting.

"Nobody has experience for this type of stuff, I didn't know what to do," she said. "I didn't even know how to call 911, that's like the easiest thing that you could do."

The family's lawyer, Rick Ramos, said Chase should be held accountable for failing to provide security at the ATM, given this is the second killing which has occurred there in a matter of months.

On October 17, 2021, Mary Jane Gonzalez, 49, was killed during a robbery while using the same ATM machine. The suspect fled the scene following the shooting and remains at large.

"We have to start asking questions of why there is not an off-duty police officer there? Why is there not a personal security guard there? Why don't they hire private contractors? Why is the ATM still operating after hours on a premises that is full of crime after crime after crime after crime," Ramos said.

In a statement to NBC News, a Chase spokesperson said the company was "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 has since been charged with aggravated assault serious bodily injury. Harris County District Attorney's Office said prosecutors are looking into the possibility of upgrading the charges.

Speaking at the press conference, the girl's father, Armando Alvarez, said his family are demanding "justice" for her death and dismissed suggestions that Earls was acting in self-defense when he opened fire.

"The person was already away, at least 100 foot away, when he started spraying," Armando Alvarez said. "He shot the guy towards the guy four times."

Arlene attended the De Zavala Elementary School. In a statement to KTRK, Houston Independent School District said: "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."

Harris County District Attorney's Office has been contacted for comment.

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Chase at The Summit shopping center in Louisville Kentucky. A 9-year-old girl was fatally shot following a robbery at a Chase ATM in Houston, Texas. James Leynse/Corbis/Getty Images