HOUSTON — The family who mourned the loss of Arlene Alvarez just five months ago is now facing another heartbreaking hurdle after learning the man who fired the shot that killed the 9-year-old will not be punished for her death.
Tony Earls was no-billed by a grand jury Tuesday. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said the jury ultimately decided he had no criminal intent to harm Arlene, which resulted in them declining to indict.
"To say that we're disappointed wouldn't be enough," said April Aguirre, Arlene's aunt. "We feel defeated because they so quickly came to a decision we don't agree with.
"I go back to that day every night and I know what happened," said Gwen Alvarez, Arlene's mom. "Maybe Earls was not accountable for his actions but he knows with what intentions he did. With what intentions he shot at our vehicle because self-defense is not more than nine shots. He knew what he was doing and he knew he was going to intentionally kill whoever was in that vehicle."
Tony Earl's lawyer released the following statement after the grand jury verdict:
"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.”
The family said all they want is somebody held accountable, and Ogg agrees, which is why investigators are focusing on catching the robbery suspect who started the chain of events that led to Arlene's death.
Ogg said the suspect will face a felony murder charge and life in prison.
Investigators have described the suspect as a medium to dark skin man, possibly African American. He is tall with a medium to heavy set build. He was wearing gloves and a mask that was partially covering his face at the time of the robbery.
A reward of up to $30,000 is being offered for any information on the robbery suspect in this case. Houston businessman Tilman Fertitta donated $25,000 of the reward money.
Anyone with information is urged to call Crime Stoppers at 713-222-8477.
What happened the night Arlene was killed
On February 14, 2022, Tony Earls and his wife went to a Chase Bank ATM near the intersection of Winkler and Woodridge Drive to deposit money.
Surveillance video captured the armed robber approaching Tony Earls and his wife as they were depositing money into an ATM. He pointed a gun at the wife's face and demanded money, their car keys and wallet, investigators said.
Both Earls and his wife complied.
The robber was then seen running away from the scene. As the shot gets wider, the suspect is seen running past a fence and pointing what appears to be a gun back toward the ATM.
Earls got out of his vehicle and said he heard gunshots and believed he was being shot at so he grabbed his gun and fired at what he thought was the suspect's vehicle.
He was wrong. He actually fired shots at the Alvarez family vehicle and a bullet struck Arlene, who was sitting in the backseat.
Investigators said this probably wasn't the first time the suspect committed a crime at this ATM. Investigators said they have video of the suspect staking out the place for about 20 minutes before the robbery.
The district attorney's office said they need help to identify this man.
"I know we can find this killer with your help," Ogg said.
A devastated family
Arlene's family said the pain they are feeling knowing Earls will not face any repercussions for Arlen's death is indescribable.
"She didn't deserve this ending," Aguirre said.
The family said all they want is for someone to turn in the guy responsible for the robbery that led to Arlene's death.
"I hope that the person that initiated the robbery understands everything that they took from this family," Aguirre said. "I don't agree with the grand jury but I do thank the district attorney's office for their work. I want somebody held accountable because this family shouldn't continue to suffer like this.
"Please help us look for the person that initiated this person," Arlene's mother said.
Watch the Alvarez family speak on the grand jury's decision below: