"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" just lost Raúl Esparza as Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba.

According to Entertainment Weekly, he chose to leave the show, but left the door open for a later return. Barba didn't die in Season 19, Episode 13, which aired February 7. Instead, Barba resigned after assisting with the death of a sick child. Peter Stone (Philip Winchester) is the new ADA, and that "Chicago Justice" character is now a series regular.

Esparza joined SVU in Season 14 and became a series regular in Season 15. EW asked Esparza why he decided to leave now; here's his response:

"I've done six seasons, I felt like it was time to go. I had explored a lot of what I thought Barba was about. I just felt it was time to move on. I was also feeling like the role has changed over the years in a way that has been an interesting experience for me. Again, I'm a theater guy, so it's like having a script in front of you that keeps changing every time you go to do it. The learning process of how roles grow over a period of time with a series has been kind of fascinating, and I just felt I had reached the end of what I wanted to explore where they were writing."

EW mentioned that he was close with former showrunner Warren Leight, who left a few after Season 17. "Was that a factor in your decision to leave?" Here's his response:

"Yeah, I think that's pretty much understood. [Laughs]"

After his final episode (for now), Esparza tweeted love to star Mariska Hargitay, and also responded to Leight's sweet note:

Mariska Hargitay (Olivia Benson) shared her emotions at the exit of her costar:

SVU showrunner Michael Chernuchin also shared a statement on Esparza's departure:

"It has truly been an honor writing for Raúl. The power, sensitivity, and morality he brought to the character of Rafael Barba never failed to elevate our scripts. Raúl is family and we look forward to seeing his talent shine in new projects. As for Barba, SVU fans may see him again soon."

Fans were not happy to see Barba go, with many calling him their favorite ADA and one of their favorite characters ever on SVU.

Read Esparza's full EW profile for more of his thoughts on Barba's exit, and his upcoming Broadway show.

"Law & Order: SVU" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST on NBC.

Want more stuff like this? Like us on Facebook.