IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Charges filed in shooting of Kansas City teen who rang wrong doorbell

"He was confronted by a man who told him, ‘Don’t come back around here,’” and then the man “immediately fired his weapon," attorney Lee Merritt said.
Get more newsLiveon

The Missouri man who shot a teenager who rang the wrong doorbell while trying to pick up his younger brothers was charged Monday with two felony counts, officials said.

A white man in his 80s, Andrew Lester, has been charged with two crimes in the April 13 shooting of Ralph Yarl, 16, who is Black: assault in the first degree and armed criminal action, Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson said Monday.

Lester is 84, according to police documents. Earlier, authorities had given his age as 85.

An arrest warrant was issued for Lester, who is not in custody, Thompson said, adding that he didn't know where Lester was.

More on the Kansas City shooting of Ralph Yarl

Lester's bond was set at $200,000, Thompson said.

Thompson said there was a racial component to the shooting but declined to elaborate. Lester faces a maximum punishment of life in prison in the assault charge and three to 15 years on the gun charge, Thompson said.

Lester allegedly opened fire with a .32-caliber revolver, striking Yarl twice — once in the head and once in the arm. Yarl had not entered the home when Lester allegedly shot him through a glass door, Thompson said.

Speaking to NBC News' Tom Llamas, family attorney Lee Merritt said he was unaware Lester would be charged but said Yarl's relatives were relieved.

"We need him to be prepared to face full accountability for his actions," Merritt added.

Merritt said earlier that Yarl's mother had asked him to pick up his 11-year-old twin brothers Thursday. He went to a home in the 1100 block of Northeast 115th Street instead of Northeast 115th Terrace in Kansas City, Missouri, police said. 

Waited at the door

He rang the doorbell shortly before 10 p.m. and waited for someone to respond, Merritt said.

“Whoever was inside took a little longer than he anticipated to respond, and so he just waited at the door,” Merritt said, citing a statement Yarl gave to law enforcement investigators from his hospital bed Friday.

“He heard rustling around going on in the house and then finally the door was open,” the attorney said. “And he was confronted by a man who told him, ‘Don’t come back around here,’ and then he immediately fired his weapon.”

Yarl was shot in the head, which cracked his skull and left him with a critical, traumatic brain injury, the attorney said. While the teenager was still on the ground, the homeowner opened fire a second time, striking Yarl in the upper right arm, Merritt said. 

Lester told authorities that he lives alone and had just lain down to bed when he heard his doorbell ring, according to a probable cause statement from a Kansas City Police Department detective.

Lester opened his home's front door and saw a Black man pulling on the handle of a storm door in what Lester believed was an attempted break-in, according to the statement.

According to Lester's account in the statement, no words were exchanged and he opened fire seconds after opening the door.

Lester "stated it was the last thing he wanted to do, but he was 'scared to death' due to the male's size and LESTER'S age," the statement says.

The statement adds that Lester was visibly upset during the interview with authorities and repeatedly expressed concern for Yarl.

Yarl, who was hospitalized after the shooting, told authorities in an interview at the hospital that he didn’t "pull on the door."

"Ralph, you're alive, buddy'

How the encounter turned violent so quickly still confuses Yarl as he recovers, his aunt, Faith Spoonmore, said. 

“We’ll remind him like, ‘Ralph, you’re alive, buddy.’ And then he has the times where he’s like, ‘Why? I did nothing wrong. Why? I did nothing wrong.’ And he just cannot understand why,” Spoonmore said. “So it’s waves. He goes through waves.”

Merritt said Yarl is now in stable condition and out of the hospital. The teen spoke to President Joe Biden on Monday, Merritt said.

"Ralph just got off the phone with the president of the United States tonight," the lawyer said. "He’s relieved by the outpouring of support. And like I said he had a chance to speak with the White House, and the president of the United States can get some direction currently."

Yarl said the person who shot him was a white man who "seemed angry and hostile" by his presence on the property, his attorney said.

Merritt said the teenager saved his own life by fleeing and banging on at least three neighbors’ doors for help.

At the third home, Merritt said, the neighbor told Yarl to lie on the ground and put his hands in the air. He complied and then passed out, the attorney said.

A police officer on April 17, 2023, walks past the house where 16-year-old Ralph Yarl was shot when he went to the wrong address to pick up his younger brothers in Kansas City, Mo.
The house where 16-year-old Ralph Yarl was shot when he went to the wrong address to pick up his younger brothers in Kansas City, Mo.Charlie Riedel / AP

The neighborhood

Merritt said the neighborhood where the shooting occurred is predominantly white and conservative and "commonly referred to among locals as God's country."

"We've heard reports from Black people who live in the neighborhood, who visit the neighborhood, that there seems to be a standing hostility toward Black presence in that community," he said.

Karen Skinner, who has lived on 115th Street for more than 30 years, said the shooting in her neighborhood surprised her given how her block is typically quiet and crime isn’t an issue.

“It’s a neighborhood in which I’m not going to even walk on my neighbor’s yard because they’re all very well manicured,” Skinner said, adding that the street includes many older white homeowners whose children have grown up.

In recent years, newer families have been moving in, including a Black family, she said, but most residents keep to themselves.

Ralph Yarl.
Ralph Yarl.Ben Crump Law via AP

“This was an absolute shock,” she said of the shooting.

Skinner said she was still awake in the late evening of April 13 doing laundry but didn’t hear gunfire or screams. Another friend messaged her on Facebook to check if the emergency lights flooding the neighborhood were for her home. When Skinner said she went outside to check on what happened, the teen had already been taken to the hospital.

Skinner said she had never interacted with the homeowner who shot Yarl, despite living in the same neighborhood for decades. Since the shooting, she has been trying to make sense of why someone felt using a firearm was necessary.

“If you don’t know what’s at the door and you’re that scared, then don’t open the door,” she said. “I’m afraid that race played a part of that.”

She added, “I wish the kid had come to my house.”

Ralph Yarl
Ralph Yarl.via GoFundMe

Meanwhile, the teenager's aunt said he has received an outpouring of love and support from his teachers, friends and classmates.

Yarl, a junior at Staley High School in Kansas City, is an excellent student and talented musician, the superintendent of North Kansas City Schools said in a statement Monday.

“He maintains a stellar GPA while taking mostly college-level courses,” Dan Clemens said. “While he loves science and hopes to pursue that career path, his passion is music. Thankfully, we know he is now recovering alongside family.”

Megan Lilien, his former teacher, said Yarl is a “gentle soul” and gifted student who wants to study chemical engineering in college.

Lilien, who taught Yarl at the Missouri Scholars Academy, a three-week residential program for academically gifted students, said he was a “highly intelligent” and observant student, curious about the world.

The shooting has sparked outrage on social media, a weekend protest and calls for the shooter’s arrest.

Merritt urged authorities to investigate whether race played a role and why the man decided to pull the trigger twice.

"He's going to have to say that he looked out, he saw a black silhouette and he feared for his life," the attorney said.