Ralph Yarl, the Black 16-year-old boy who was shot twice after accidentally ringing the doorbell of the wrong home when picking up his brothers, is crying “buckets of tears,” his mother told CBS News.
Ralph was shot after he went to collect his two younger brothers on Thursday before 10 p.m., according to police. Police said Ralph mistook the address 115th Terrace for 115th Street, where he was shot. He was released from the hospital on Sunday after suffering life-threatening injuries, and is now recovering at home, according to local media.
His mother, Cleo Nagbe, says that Ralph is doing “considerably well,” but says that he is replaying the tragedy “over and over again.”
Andrew Lester, the 84-year-old white homeowner who shot Ralph, turned himself in Tuesday afternoon at the Clay County Detention Center. He faces felony charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action for the April 13 shooting. The assault charge carries potential punishment of up to life in prison, while sentences for armed criminal action range from three to 15 years.
Lester claimed to police that he opened fire through the door of his home without saying a single word because he was “scared to death” of the unarmed teen. Clay County prosecutor Zachary Thompson said Monday that there appeared to be a “racial component” to the case, but he clarified that the probable cause statement did not indicate that the case was “racially motivated.”
According to charging documents, Lester told police shortly after he shot Ralph that it was the “last thing he wanted to do,” but says he believed “he was protecting himself against a “physical confrontation,” which he would not have been prepared for given his advanced age. Lester pointed to Ralph’s size, which he claimed was 6 feet, and Lester’s “inability to defend himself” as the reasoning behind his actions. (Ralph’s aunt, Faith Spoonmore, told CNN he is not that tall.)
Protests have erupted in Kansas City and across the nation following the shooting, and the incident has received widespread attention on social media. President Joe Biden spoke to Yarl’s family, the White House confirmed on Monday, offering “his prayers for Ralph’s health and for justice,” according to a statement from the family’s attorneys. Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted: “Let’s be clear: No child should ever live in fear of being shot for ringing the wrong doorbell. Every child deserves to be safe.”
The family has launched a GoFundMe which has amassed nearly $3 million so far.
Here’s what we know about the case.
On April 13, Ralph’s family asked him to pick up his younger twin brothers from a friend’s house.
According to Spoonmore, who identified herself as Yarl’s aunt and has started a GoFundMe page, the homeowner “opened the door, looked my nephew in the eye, and shot him in the head. My nephew fell to the ground, and the man shot him again. Ralph was then able to get up and run to the neighbor’s house, looking for help.” The Kansas City Star reports that Yarl had to ask for help at three different houses before he got the aid he needed.
Officers responded to reports of a shooting and found that Yarl had been wounded. Police said Sunday that he is in a stable condition. “Despite the severity of his injuries and the seriousness of his condition, Ralph is alive and recovering,” said civil rights attorneys S. Lee Merritt and Benjamin Crump in a statement issued on behalf of Yarl’s family. Crump has represented the families of victims in other high-profile shootings, including Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
According to Spoonmore’s funding page, Ralph plays multiple instruments in the metropolitan youth orchestra and participated in the Missouri Scholars Academy for gifted high school students in 2022. His goal is to attend Texas A&M University to study chemical engineering.
The prosecutor said Lester, who lived alone, shot Yarl with a .32-caliber revolver through a glass door. No words were exchanged between the two. There were no witnesses or video of the shooting itself.
Excerpts of the prosecutor’s probable cause statement posted online reveal that Lester told police he picked up his gun after hearing the doorbell ring while laying down. He opened an interior door and saw a “black male approximately six feet tall” pulling on the exterior door of his house. Believing it was a break-in attempt, he fired twice after opening the door.
Lester said he was “scared to death” because of his inability to defend himself and clarified that shooting was “the last thing he wanted to do,” according to the statement.
Darron Edwards, lead pastor of the United Believers Community Church, says the community is “shocked” by the actions that transpired against Yarl.
“The way we are told right now that this has happened, ringing a doorbell and instantly, getting shot two times, is not how you want to look at your city,” Edwards says. “I started thinking about the little kids at Halloween that trick or treat, can they ring the doorbell?”
On Sunday, hundreds of people took to the streets in Kansas City in protest, chanting “justice for Ralph” and “Black lives matter.”
Neighbor describes helping Ralph Yarl after shooting
James Lynch, the good Samaritan who rushed to aid Ralph, said he heard someone screaming for help in the typically tranquil neighborhood. “I thought he was dead,” Lynch told NBC News. “He hasn’t even begun to live his life yet. He didn’t deserve to get shot.”
Lynch, who is Lester’s neighbor, was getting ready for bed when he heard the teenager scream that he had been shot. The 42-year-old father of three, had seen Ralph banging on the door of Lester’s home through his kitchen window; he was trying to figure out what was going on next door after he heard shouting.
Lynch ran over to the yard, where he found Ralph covered in blood.
Lynch and another neighbor tried to stop the bleeding. He asked the teenager his name and age—and Ralph struggled to respond but did spell his name. The duo stayed until paramedics arrived.
“I didn’t do anything but hold a kid’s hand so he wouldn’t feel alone,” Lynch said. “He had just gotten shot twice; he had a hole in the side of his head
“That kid is tougher than I am.”
Why was the shooter released?
Lester, who at the time remained unnamed, was initially taken into custody and placed on a 24-hour hold while investigations were carried out, Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves said in a news conference Sunday. He was later released because charges had not yet been made, Graves confirmed. This sparked concerns among the wider community that there would be no accountability for the shooter.
Prosecutors charged Lester on Monday, and he turned himself in on Tuesday.
“It is situations like this that feed the ongoing distrust in law enforcement when Black people are the victims of excessive or deadly force at the hands of white citizens and law enforcement,” Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, told the Kansas City Star. “The notion that a victim’s statement is required is unfathomable to me. Homicide victims don’t give statements, yet the perpetrators get arrested.”
“This is one [event] you cannot divorce from race,” Edwards says. “The family wants justice.”
Police previously said that they were waiting for a formal victim statement and forensic evidence to fill out a case file. Graves also said they were investigating whether the gunman was protected by Missouri’s “stand your ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force if they believe it will protect them from death or “great bodily harm.”
But as investigators and Lester’s legal defense look to the self-defense laws that may apply in this case, Sean D. O’Brien, a professor at University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law, tells TIME, “There’s still a reasonableness standard. He has to be able to point to something to say he was in fear of [the] ringing [of] the doorbell, and [Yarl] being Black by itself is not going to cut it.”
—With reporting by Chad de Guzman, Sanya Mansoor, and Armani Syed.
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