One of the grandchildren of Andrew Lester, the Kansas City homeowner who shot Ralph Yarl after the Black teenager had mistakenly gone to the wrong home, believes police should have acted sooner to arrest his grandfather, who he said has been overtaken by conspiracy theories in recent years.
"I am deeply saddened by what happened — it's a tragedy, and I believe the responsible party must be held accountable," Lester's grandson Klint Ludwig said Thursday in a text message.
"I blame KCPD for failing to act the day of," he said of the Kansas City Police Department, "and am glad that the backlash to their inaction has led to charges. It is not easy to see someone I was close with make such a terrible mistake, but I will apply my convictions evenly and denounce what he's done in the strongest terms."
Wrong doorbell shooting: Homeowner pleads not guiltyApril 20, 202302:13
Ludwig, 28, a former public safety officer who lives in suburban Kansas City, said he grew up knowing that his grandfather was “great” and would spend time at his grandparents’ home exploring their quiet, kid-friendly neighborhood — streets he himself found to be very similar.
Ludwig said he never really knew what his grandfather’s social and political views were when he was younger but said Lester had become consumed with watching conservative news outlets and following conspiracy theories built on misinformation.
“His actions are his responsibility, and falling into the fear and paranoia stoked by the 24-hour news cycle and wild conspiracies did not help his mental state,” Ludwig said.
Ludwig said his political views differ greatly from his grandfather’s and his thoughts are with the young Black high school student who could have lost his life for simply going to the wrong home.
“Ralph deserves justice, regardless of my relationship with the shooter,” Ludwig said. “Black Lives Matter always.”
The random encounter on the night of April 13 between Lester, 84, and Yarl, 16, has brought attention to other incidents in America of a young person acting mistakenly during a seemingly innocuous event and then getting shot for it. In recent days, a 20-year-old woman was fatally shot in upstate New York after turning into the wrong driveway and two cheerleaders in Texas were shot after getting into the wrong car, authorities said.
Yarl, an honors student at Staley High School in Kansas City, was going to pick up his younger brothers from a home in the city's Northland neighborhood when he mistakenly rang the doorbell of the wrong address, his family's attorney said.
More on the shooting of Ralph Yarl
- Ralph Yarl is a gifted chemistry student and a 'gentle soul,' former teacher says
- 'He didn't deserve to get shot': Good Samaritan who helped Ralph Yarl found him bloody and motionless
- Will Ralph Yarl's shooter be protected by Missouri’s 'stand your ground' law?
- Biden spoke at length with Ralph Yarl and stressed commitment to fighting gun violence
The home belonged to Lester, who later told police that he was going to bed when he heard the doorbell ring and grabbed his .32-caliber revolver. 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, according to a probable cause statement filed by police.
Lester said he fired twice through the glass door before the male ran away, and that they did not exchange words. He 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.
But Yarl gave a different version of events, according to police: He said he did not pull on the door handle and that he was waiting after having rung the bell when a man opened the door and shot him in the head and then in the arm. Yarl told investigators that he heard a voice say, "Don't come around here."
Yarl was hospitalized and released three days later. His family's lawyer, Lee Merritt, said he is expected to make close to a full recovery, although he suffered permanent physical injuries from a cracked skull, loss of brain tissue and scarring.
Lester pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony counts of assault in the first degree and armed criminal action, and could face a maximum sentence of life in prison. He remains free on a $200,000 bail.
Neither he nor his lawyer could immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
The shooting gained widespread attention as Black celebrities, activists and politicians demanded that authorities make an arrest in the shooting after Lester, who is white, was released within two hours of him being initially questioned.
Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson told reporters after announcing charges that while there is a racial component to the case, there was nothing in the charging documents to specify the shooting itself was racially motivated.
In interviews with The Kansas City Star, some of Lester's relatives said they do not believe he is racist nor that he shot Yarl explicitly because the teenager is Black.
Daniel Ludwig, another grandson of Lester's, told the newspaper that he thinks his grandfather would not have shot Yarl if he didn't believe Yarl had "gone for the door."
"If you look at the affidavit, there were actions taken that caused it," Daniel Ludwig said.
Dean Smith, a nephew of Lester's, told The Star that Lester has been living alone after his wife went to a rehab facility, and that he could understand if his uncle felt scared if he thought there was an intruder.
Lester, a retired airline mechanic, was an airman in the military and had owned a gun for years, according to his family. As part of his bond supervision, a judge ordered him to surrender any firearms.
"He's worked with so many people," Smith told The Star. "He's been a supervisor and all, over different races. He's just a really straightforward, everyday person. He was just retired military, trying to get on with life."