Ralph Yarl: Kansas City man charged with allegedly shooting black teenager who rang the wrong doorbell

Vice President Kamala Harris said “no child should ever live in fear of being shot for ringing the wrong doorbell”, after the 16-year-old was shot twice last week

A man has been charged after Ralph Yarl, 16, was shot twice after knocking on the wrong door (Photo: GoFundMe)A man has been charged after Ralph Yarl, 16, was shot twice after knocking on the wrong door (Photo: GoFundMe)
A man has been charged after Ralph Yarl, 16, was shot twice after knocking on the wrong door (Photo: GoFundMe)

An 84-year-old man from Kansas City, Missouri has been charged with first-degree assault, for allegedly shooting a black teenager that mistakenly approached his house while trying to pick up his siblings.

Prosecuting attorney Zachary Thompson said at a news conference that there was a “racial component” to the incident last Thursday night, when Andrew Lester - who is white - allegedly twice shot 16-year-old Ralph Yarl, now recovering at home after being released from hospital.

However, Mr Thompson said nothing in the charging documents said the shooting was racially motivated. “We understand how frustrating this has been but I can assure you the criminal justice system is working and will continue to work,” he said.

The shooting angered many in Kansas City and across the country. Civic and political leaders – including President Joe Biden – have demanded justice. Vice President Kamala Harris wrote on Twitter that “no child should ever live in fear of being shot for ringing the wrong doorbell”. The Missouri Senate held a moment of silence for Yarl on Monday.

Some, including lawyers for Yarl, pressed the racial dimension of the case. Reverend Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, called the shooting a “heinous and hate-filled crime”.

The civil rights attorneys for Yarl’s family, Ben Crump and Lee Merritt, said in a statement that Mr Biden called Yarl’s family and offered “prayers for Ralph’s health and for justice”. “Gun violence against unarmed Black individuals must stop,” the lawyers’ statement read. “Our children should feel safe, not as though they are being hunted.”

The assault charge carries a penalty of up to life in prison. Lester was also charged with armed criminal action, which has a penalty range of three to 15 years in prison. Missouri is among roughly 30 states with Stand Your Ground laws, which allow for the use of deadly force in self-defence, but the prosecutor determined the shooting was not in self-defence.

Yarl was supposed to pick up his two younger brothers on Thursday night at roughly 10pm. He did not have a phone with him and went to the wrong block, his aunt, Faith Spoonmore, wrote on a GoFundMe page set up to help pay medical bills.

"He mistakenly went to the wrong house, one block away from the house where his siblings were. He pulled into the driveway and rang the doorbell. The man in the home opened the door, looked my nephew in the eye, and shot him in the head," she continued.

"My nephew fell to the ground, and the man shot him again. Ralph was then able to get up and run to the neighbour's house, looking for help. Unfortunately, he 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."

No words were exchanged before the shooting, the probable cause statement said. But afterward, as Yarl got up to run, he heard the occupant yell “don’t come around here”, the lawyers' statement said. Suspect Lester told police that he lives alone and had just gone to bed when he heard his doorbell, according to the probable cause statement. He said he picked up his gun and went to the door, where he saw a black male pulling on the exterior storm door handle and thought someone was breaking in.

Yarl's aunt described him as "a fantastic kid, and I am not just saying this because he is my nephew".

"At school, he is a member of the Technology Student Association and Science Olympia Team. Jazz and competition band. He is a section leader in the marching band, a scholar and one of the top [bass] clarinet players in Missouri," she said.

The teen recently earned Missouri All-State Band recognition with an honourable mention, she said, and was a 2022 Missouri scholar academy alumni. His goal was to attend Texas A&M to major in chemical engineering. When asked how he plans to get into this university, he had told her, “Well, if they have a scholarship for music or academics, I know I can get it.”

"Ralph's teacher and friends describe him as “ a kind soul,” “quiet,” “friendly,” “well-mannered,” “always willing to help,” “super smart,” and a “musical genius"... Ralph was looking forward to graduating high school and finally getting the opportunity to visit West Africa before starting college," Ms Spoonmore said.

"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. He is our miracle," she continued. "We have heard these types of stories many times, and unfortunately, most black boys are not alive to get another chance."

By Monday afternoon, the Associated Press reported the home where the shooting happened had been vandalised. Black spray-paint on the side of the house showed a heart with 16 in the middle, eggs splattered the front windows and the door.