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Andrew Lester, 84-year-old Kansas City man accused of shooting Ralph Yarl, is in custody

Yarl, a 16-year-old who is Black, was shot after he mistakenly went to the wrong address to pick up his brothers. He told police he rang the doorbell and was shot.
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An 84-year-old Kansas City man accused of shooting a Black teenager who mistakenly rang the doorbell at the wrong home surrendered to police Tuesday, officials said.

"Andrew Lester, charged in the shooting of Ralph Yarl, has surrendered at our Detention Center and is in custody," the Clay County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. "He is in the booking process right now."

Lester, of Kansas City, was charged Monday with first-degree assault and armed criminal action, both of which are felonies, in the shooting Thursday night of Ralph Yarl, the Clay County prosecuting attorney has said.

Lester was released Tuesday evening after he posted bail, which had been set at $200,000, the sheriff's office said.

Yarl, 16, had gone to gone to the wrong address to pick up his siblings around 10 p.m., and he was shot through a glass door after he rang the doorbell, according to a probable cause statement filed by police.

Lester told investigators that he had gone to bed when the doorbell rang and that he went to the door armed with a .32-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, police wrote.

Lester said he saw a Black male he didn’t know pulling on the exterior storm door handle and thought his home was being broken into, the probable cause statement says.

Lester said he fired twice through the glass door, it says. Then, the male ran away, he told police, and he used his home phone to dial 911. He said he saw a car in the driveway of his home that he believed belonged to the male but didn't see anyone inside it.

No words were exchanged, Lester told police.

Lester said firing his weapon "was the last thing he wanted to do, but he was 'scared to death'" because of his age and the male’s size, police wrote.

Lester said he lives alone. A police detective wrote in the probable cause statement that he noticed a security system in the home and took the hard drive to preserve any evidence but later found the equipment had last captured video in June and was no longer functional.

Yarl was interviewed at the hospital the next day and gave a different version of events, according to the probable cause statement. He told a detective that he did not pull on the door and that he was waiting at the door after having rung the bell when a man opened the door holding a firearm.

Yarl “stated he was immediately shot in the head and fell to the ground,” police wrote. He told police that he was shot again, this time in the arm, and ran, according to the document. Yarl reported to police that he heard a voice say, “Don’t come around here,” police wrote.

Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson said there was a racial component to the case. Lester is white.

Even though Thompson said there was a racial element, Lester won’t be charged with a hate crime because it would be a lesser degree of felony than what he has been charged with, Alexander K. Higginbotham, a prosecutor’s spokesman, said by email Tuesday. 

“Our office has charged the defendant in his case with an A felony, which is four classes higher than a hate crime enhancement could take a charge,” he said. 

That is also why Lester wasn’t charged with attempted murder, Higginbotham said, because “the charge would be a lower level of offense than Assault in the First Degree and carry with it a lower range of punishment.”

Thompson said he “understands the racial components and context that surround a case like this,” adding, “However, legally speaking, there is not a racial element to the legal charges that were filed.”

Yarl has been released from the hospital, an attorney for his family said.

Police said in the probable cause statement that they tried to reach Yarl's family Sunday and Monday to conduct a formal interview but had trouble making contact.

“I just want justice to be served, so whatever is the right amount of justice for this situation should be granted out to him. Nothing more, nothing less, just the right amount, that’s it,” Cleo Nagbe, Yarl's mother, told NBC News outside the Clay County Courthouse Tuesday afternoon.

Lee Merritt, who is representing Yarl's family, said that he was satisfied with the charges and that the family “want to see it through to a conviction and appropriate sentencing.” 

But Merritt took issue on several fronts, including why Lester was released within two hours of having been taken in for initial questioning and saying prosecutors still haven’t clarified whether the shots were fired from inside or outside the house. 

“We’re frustrated with law enforcement and their failure to take responsibility for the denial of this family’s due process. No one has owned up to it,” Merritt said. “This 16-year-old unarmed boy didn’t actually pose a threat. But far too often in America, his skin alone is his weapon."

Merritt added that Yarl has some permanent injuries from a cracked skull, loss of brain tissue and scarring but is expected to make close to a full recovery.

The shooting sparked protests in Kansas City. Actor Halle Berry was among those who spoke out.

"This could be your child. This should NOT happen," Berry wrote Monday on Instagram.

President Joe Biden called Yarl and his mother on Monday, attorneys for Yarl's family and a White House official said.

At a rally in Kansas City on Tuesday, demonstrators called for justice, as well as safe communities for Black people.

Keturah Gibson said she babysat Yarl when he was younger. She said that as a Black woman who delivers for DoorDash, and who is the mother of a 7-year-old daughter, the shooting hits close to home.

“That could easily have been me that night,” Gibson said.

The night of the shooting, Lester was taken into custody after the shooting and later released. Police wrote in the probable cause document that the prosecutor's office advised that he be released pending further investigation.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether Lester had retained an attorney.

Deon J. Hampton reported from Kansas City, Phil Helsel from Los Angeles and Safia Samee Ali from Chicago. Erik Ortiz contributed from New York.