What We Know About the Shooting of Ralph Yarl

Photo: GoFundMe

On April 13, a Black teenager was shot in Kansas City, Missouri, after accidentally going to the wrong house to pick up his younger siblings in the city’s Northland neighborhood. Although police did not initially name the victim, his relatives identified him on social media and to reporters as 16-year-old Ralph Yarl.

Following the attack, hundreds of protesters marched to the home where Yarl was shot, where they chanted for justice and demanded that the shooter be prosecuted. Days later, prosecutors identified the shooter as Andrew D. Lester, an 84-year-old man. Zachary Thompson, a prosecutor on the case, confirmed that the shooter was white, saying, “There was a racial component to the case.” Meanwhile, Yarl’s father told a local news station that his son was released from the hospital on Sunday night and was recovering at home.

Here’s what we know so far.

Police say Ralph Yarl was shot after accidentally going to the wrong house to pick up his brothers.

On the evening of the shooting, Yarl’s parents asked him to pick up his younger twin brothers from a friend’s house on 115th Terrace, but Yarl mistakenly went to a home on 115th Street instead, the Kansas City Star reports. Yarl’s aunt, Faith Spoonmore, wrote on a GoFundMe page for her nephew that he didn’t have his phone on him and accidentally pulled into the driveway of the wrong house. According to Spoonmore, Yarl rang the doorbell and “the man in the home 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.”

Kansas City Police chief Stacey Graves said that police were called after a homeowner shot Yarl. At a news conference on April 17, prosecutors said that Yarl was shot twice — once in the head and once in the arm — and was somehow able to get himself to a nearby home while bleeding. Yarl was transported to a hospital and treated for his injuries. Spoonmore said that her nephew went to three houses before someone helped him.

Yarl’s family says he’s in stable condition.

Police said that Yarl’s injuries were life-threatening but that he stabilized within days. Paul Yarl, Ralph’s father, told the New York Times that his son had surgery over the weekend to remove the bullets and was able to walk out of the hospital that Sunday evening.

Spoonmore, Yarl’s aunt, wrote, “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. We have heard these types of stories many times, and unfortunately, most black boys are not alive to get another chance.”

Spoonmore described her nephew as a quiet and gentle person who loved music. Yarl recently earned Missouri All-State Band recognition and plays multiple instruments in the metropolitan youth orchestra.

Prosecutors have filed charges against the alleged shooter.

Although Graves initially said that the information that police gathered did not point to the shooting being racially motivated, she noted the possibility remained under investigation, adding that “as a chief of police, I do recognize the racial components of this case.” With pressure increasing, the police department said on April 17 that it had submitted the case file to the Clay County prosecuting attorney’s office.

The same day, prosecutors identified Lester as the suspect and charged him with assault in the first degree, a Class-A felony that, if convicted, could result in a sentence of life in prison. He was also charged with armed criminal action. Announcing the charges, Thompson, the prosecutor, said what Yarl’s family, attorneys, protesters, and many others had already expressed: “There was a racial component to the case.” According to NBC, Lester surrendered on April 18 and was released the same evening after posting bail, which had been set at $200,000. He pleaded not guilty the next day.

According to a probable-cause statement, Lester told police that he lives alone and was “scared to death” when he saw Yarl on the porch and thought the teenager was trying to break in. No words were exchanged before Lester fired his gun. But as Yarl ran for help he heard Lester shout, “Don’t come around here,” the statement said.

On April 18, 1,500 students at Staley High School, where Yarl is a student, walked out of class in support of their classmate. As they walked around the campus, they chanted, “We love you, Ralph” and “Justice for Ralph.”

Lester’s grandson believes his grandfather went “down the right-wing rabbit hole” in recent years.

The week after the shooting, Lester’s grandson — Klint Ludwig, 28 — told the Kansas City Star in an interview that his grandfather consumed “a 24-hour news cycle of fear and paranoia.” Whereas two other relatives told the Star that they thought Lester was likely afraid when he shot Yarl (“eighty-four years old, living by himself,” one nephew said), Ludwig suggested a source for that supposed fear. In the last five or six years, Ludwig said, Lester became “staunchly right-wing,” going “further down the right-wing rabbit hole as far as doing the election-denying conspiracy stuff and COVID conspiracies and disinformation, fully buying into the Fox News, OAN kind of line.”

“I feel like it’s really further radicalized him in a lot of ways,” he told the Star. “And then the NRA pushing the ‘stand your ground’ stuff and that you have to defend your home.” Ludwig said he was “appalled and shocked” when he learned his grandfather had shot Yarl but “didn’t disbelieve that it was true.”

Ludwig also criticized investigators’ handling of the shooting, and said he believed the only reason prosecutors charged his grandfather was community pressure. “Ralph Yarl did nothing wrong by showing up at the wrong house, which is an honest, easy mistake,” he said. “I stand with Ralph, and really want his family to achieve justice for what happened to them. Their child or grandchild or nephew’s life was fundamentally changed forever, over a mistake and someone being scared and fearful.”

This post has been updated.

What We Know About the Shooting of Ralph Yarl