A White, 84-year-old homeowner charged with shooting Ralph Yarl after the Black teen went to the wrong Kansas City address to pick up his siblings told police they didn’t exchange words before he fired at him through a locked glass door.
Homeowner Andrew Lester faces two felony charges for assault in the first degree and armed criminal action. A warrant has been issued for his arrest, but Lester is not yet in custody.
The criminal charges have brought a bit of comfort to Ralph’s family – but long roads lie ahead, both with Ralph’s recovery and the quest for justice, his aunt Faith Spoonmore told CNN.
“It’s not as simple as turning a page,” Spoonmore said Tuesday. “It’s a little better that he is – hopefully – going to get part of what of he deserves.”
Now, questions swirl over why Lester was initially detained but released a few hours after the April 13 shooting.
“I share the outrage and concern of many in asking why,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas told CNN.
“In Missouri, you can have a 24-hour hold. It is clear here that this was two or three hours, where they questioned the suspect. He was able to go back home that evening.”
Lester told police he fired immediately after answering the doorbell when he saw 16-year-old Ralph pulling on an exterior door handle, according to the probable cause document obtained by CNN.
Lester thought Ralph was trying to break and was “scared to death” due to the boy’s size, according to the document.
Officers responded just before 10 p.m. on April 13 after receiving reports of a shooting. When they arrived, they found Ralph wounded in the street.
The shooting left Ralph, who plays bass clarinet and is a band leader in school, with gunshot wounds to his head and arm. While he was hospitalized, Ralph told police he did not pull on the door, according to the document.
It was “nothing short of a miracle” that Ralph was discharged from the hospital, his attorney Ben Crump told CNN on Monday. But “he’s not out of the woods yet.”
CNN has not been able to reach the homeowner. No lawyer was listed in a booking report.
The shooting fueled protests in Kansas City and stirred memories of Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery – two young Black men who were gunned down by assailants who later claimed self-defense.
Demonstrators have marched through Kansas City chanting, “Justice for Ralph,” and calling for the shooter’s arrest.
The shooting also came days before a 20-year-old woman was shot and killed in upstate New York after she and three others accidentally turned into the wrong driveway.
While Ralph’s attorneys say the teen never posed a threat to his shooter, it remains unclear whether Missouri’s “stand your ground” law will be cited in Lester’s defense case.
“Stand your ground” laws allow people to respond to threats or force without fear of criminal prosecution in any place where a person has the right to be.
Ralph’s aunt challenged the notion that her nephew’s “size” could be a threat.
“I really don’t understand how,” Spoonmore said. “I doubt Ralph is even 170 pounds. Ralph is not even 6 feet (tall).”
She said she’s on a mission to help get justice for her nephew.
“I want justice to look the same across the board,” Spoonmore said. “I want justice to look the same.”
The mayor said he believes Ralph was racially profiled by the shooter.
“This boy was shot because he was existing while Black,” Lucas said.
Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson has said, “There was a racial component to this case,” but did not elaborate.
On the night of the shooting, Lester was taken into custody and was released less than two hours later, two representatives at the Kansas City Police Department detention unit previously told CNN.
Lester was released because police recognized that more investigative work needed to be done, Thompson said.
Attorney Crump said it makes no sense that the shooter hasn’t been arrested.
“Nobody can tell us if the roles were reversed, and you had a Black man shoot a White 16-year-old teenager for merely ringing his doorbell that he would not be arrested. I mean, this citizen went home and slept in his bed at night after shooting that young Black kid in the head,” Crump told CNN.
“He merely rang the doorbell. That was it,” the teen’s attorney said. “And the owner of the home shoots through the door, hitting him in the head and then shoots him a second time.”
The mayor said he didn’t even know the details of the case until several days after the shooting. And while he believes race played a role in the shooting, he acknowledged the work by police – including White officers – who helped prosecutors file charges against Lester.
“We did have officers, White officers for what it’s worth, who did a lot of hard work to get this case file to the prosecutor having charges filed shortly thereafter,” Lucas said.
“That being said, to pretend that race is not a part of this whole situation would be to have your head in the sand.”
Before the shooting, Lester was lying down in bed when he heard the doorbell ring and picked up his .32 caliber revolver, he told police, according to a probable cause statement.
He then went to his home’s front entrance, which includes an interior door and a glass exterior door – both of which were locked.
Lester opened the interior door and “saw a black male approximately 6 feet tall pulling on the exterior storm door handle,” Lester told police.
“He stated he believed someone was attempting to break into the house, and shot twice within a few seconds of opening the door,” the probable cause statement reads.
“He believed he was protecting himself from a physical confrontation and could not take the chance of the male coming in,” the document reads.
Lester said he immediately called 911 after the shooting, according to the document.
Police spoke with Ralph while he was being treated at a hospital, where he told them his mother asked him to pick up his brothers at 1100 NE 115th Street, according to the document, which notes the actual address they were staying at was 1100 NE 115th Terrace.
When he arrived at the house on 115th Street, Ralph said he rang the doorbell and waited a while before a man eventually opened the door and immediately shot him in the head, causing him to fall, the document says.
While the teenager was still on the ground, the man then fired again, shooting him in the arm, Ralph told police.
Ralph said he got up and ran to keep from being shot, and he heard the man say, “Don’t come around here,” the document says. He then went to multiple nearby homes asking for help and telling people to call police.
The boy told police he did not pull on the door, according to the probable cause document.
Responding officers also found the front storm door glass at Lester’s home broken, with blood on the front porch and the driveway, according to the document.
The teen “had to run to 3 different homes before someone finally agreed to help him after he was told to lie on the ground with his hands up,” a GoFundMe page started by Ralph’s aunt states.
A neighbor, who asked not to be identified, told CNN she called 911 after Ralph came to her door, bleeding.
Since the shooter’s location was unknown at the time, she was directed to stay inside her home by the emergency operator for her safety. She said she complied initially, then went outside with towels to help suppress the bleeding.
“This is somebody’s child. I had to clean blood off of my door, off of my railing. That was someone’s child’s blood,” she said. “I’m a mom … this is not OK.”
Ralph is still traumatized from the ordeal, but the family hopes for a full recovery because Ralph is young and strong, Crump said.
“He and his family are just happy that he’s alive after being shot in the head,” Crump told CNN.
Ralph, a section leader in a marching band who could often be found with an instrument in hand, had been looking forward to graduating from high school and visiting West Africa before starting college, according to the GoFundMe page.
“Life looks a lot different right now. Even though he is doing well physically, he has a long road ahead mentally and emotionally. The trauma that he has to endure and survive is unimaginable,” the aunt wrote in the fundraiser.
The GoFundMe page, started to help the family with medical expenses, had garnered more than $2 million in donations by Monday night.
Crump likened Ralph’s shooting to the shootings of 17-year-old Martin in Florida and 25-year-old Arbery in Georgia.
“We continue to fight to say you can’t profile and shoot our children, just because you have this ‘stand your ground’ law,” Crump said. “Unacceptable.”
Lee Merritt, another attorney representing Ralph and his family, told CNN Monday that the “stand your ground” action would not apply to Ralph’s case.
“The stand your ground action, under the laws of Missouri, are completely inapplicable to this case, because there has been no conversation, not from the suspect, not from the victim and not from law enforcement, that Ralph Yarl, at 16 years old, ever posed a threat to this shooter,” Merritt said.