An 85-year-old white man who shot a Black teen at his front door in Kansas City, Missouri, last week has been charged with armed assault, and the Clay County prosecutor said Monday there was a racial component to the case.
Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson said at a news conference that Andrew Lester shot 16-year-old Ralph Yarl, who is recovering at home after being released from the hospital on Sunday.
When asked if anything was said between Lester and Yarl that made Thompson believe the shooting was racially motivated, Thompson said nothing like that is indicated in charging documents.
“We understand how frustrating this has been but I can assure the criminal justice system is working and will continue to work,” Thompson said at a news conference.
Yarl was supposed to pick up his two younger brothers last week when he approached the wrong house. Lester came to the door and shot Yarl in the head — then shot him again. No words were exchanged before the shooting, the probable cause statement said.
Lester told police that he lives alone and had just gone to bed when he heard his doorbell, according to a 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.
Community leaders and an attorney for Yarl’s family had earlier demanded justice for the Black teen. Thompson said an arrest warrant was issued but Lester was not yet in custody.
The shooting outraged many in Kansas City and across the country. Rev. Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, said in a statement Monday that the homeowner should immediately be arrested for what he called a “heinous and hate-filled crime.”
The Missouri Senate held a moment of silence for Yarl on Monday. “We pray for justice,” Democratic Sen. Lauren Arthur said.
The shooting happened Thursday night in a middle class neighborhood in north Kansas City. Yarl was sent to pick up his twin younger brothers. He didn’t 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. By Monday afternoon, $1.4 million had been raised.
Graves said that Yarl’s parents asked him to pick up his brothers at a home on 115th Terrace, but he mistakenly went to 115th Street, the Kansas City Star reported.
Spoonmore wrote that Yarl 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,” Spoonmore wrote. When Yarl fell to the ground, “the man shot him again.”
Spoonmore wrote that Yarl approached three different homes “before someone finally agreed to help him after he was told to lie on the ground with his hands up.” The AP could not independently confirm this account.
Yarl is a bass clarinetist who earned Missouri All-State Band honorable mention and who plays several instruments in the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of Kansas City, Spoonmore wrote. A statement from the North Kansas City School District described Yarl as “an excellent student and talented musician.”
Yarl was released from the hospital Sunday and is recovering at home, his father, Paul Yarl, told the Kansas City Star. Spoonmore said Yarl is “doing well physically” but has a lot of trauma to overcome emotionally.
Police have not identified the shooter or his race, though civil rights attorney Ben Crump said the family provided information indicating he was white. He did not elaborate.
By Monday afternoon, the home where the shooting happened had been vandalized. 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.
The shooting has caught the attention of national figures.
Vice President Kamala Harris wrote on Twitter that she and her husband were praying for Yarl.
“Let’s be clear: No child should ever live in fear of being shot for ringing the wrong doorbell,” Harris tweeted.
Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., wrote on Twiter that “the man who did this should be charged AND we need to work for the legislative and heart change to prevent these tragedies.”
Graves said investigators will consider whether the suspect was protected by “Stand Your Ground” laws, which allow for the use of deadly force in self-defense. Missouri is among around 30 states with such laws.
“These laws breed a society of violence and fear while providing cover for those who harm, maim and kill others,” state Rep. Marlene Terry, a St. Louis Democrat who chairs the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, said in a statement.
A message seeking comment from Republican Gov. Mike Parson, a staunch gun rights supporters, wasn’t immediately returned.
Crump, who has represented families in several high-profile case of Black people being shot, including those of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, called it “asinine” that charges have to wait for an interview with Yarl.
“We all believe that if the roles were reversed and this was a Black citizen who shot a 16-year-old for merely ringing his doorbell, they would have arrested him, and he wouldn’t have slept in his bed that night,” Crump said.
Two days after Yarl was shot, a 20-year-old woman was killed by a homeowner in Upstate New York Saturday after the car she was in drove to the wrong address. Washington County Sheriff Jeffrey Murphy said Kaylin Gillis was in a car with three others looking for a friend’s house.
As the car was turning around, Kevin Monahan came out and fired two shots, one of which struck Gillis. Monahan was charged with second-degree murder.
Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri. Nick Ingram in Kansas City and Summer Ballentine in Columbia, Missouri, contributed to this report.