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What we know about the case of Ralph Yarl, the Black teen shot after ringing the wrong doorbell

The 16-year-old went to pick up his younger twin brothers from a friend's home. He was shot twice after going to the wrong address in Kansas City, Missouri, police said.
Ralph Yarl.
Ralph Yarl.Ben Crump Law via AP

A Black teenager who was shot by a homeowner after ringing the wrong doorbell is recovering and charges were filed Monday afternoon against a white man as calls for justice intensified in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Ralph Paul Yarl, 16, was shot just before 10 p.m. Thursday when he went to pick up his younger twin brothers from a friend's home, police said.

But Yarl went to 115th Street instead of 115th Terrace and was shot twice after ringing the doorbell, his family’s attorneys, Lee Merritt and Ben Crump, said.

“Whoever was inside took a little longer than he anticipated to respond, and so he just waited at the door,” Merritt, told NBC News on Monday, citing a formal 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.” 

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

Yarl went to three houses before someone finally helped him, his aunt, Faith Spoonmore, wrote on a fundraising page for the teen’s medical expenses. 

Protests were held in Kansas City over the weekend, with some saying the teen’s race played a role in his shooting.

Police Chief Stacey Graves Sunday said that while shooting did not appear to be racially motivated, she did “recognize the racial components of this case.”

“I want everyone to know that I am listening and I understand the concern we are receiving from the community,” she added.

Late Monday afternoon, Andrew Lester, 85, who is white, was charged with two felony counts in the shooting, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

What is the status of the investigation?

Late Monday afternoon, Clay County, Mo., prosecutors filed two two felony counts against the white homeowner, Andrew Lester, 85: assault in the first degree and armed criminal action.

A warrant was issued for Lester’s arrest, but Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson said Lester was not in custody.

Thompson said there was a racial component to the shooting but he didn’t elaborate.

Lester faces a maximum punishment of life in prison in the assault charge and three to 15 years for the alleged gun crime, Thompson said.

Kansas City Police worked through the weekend to build a solid case for prosecutors, Graves said Sunday. 

She said then that a formal statement from Yarl is forthcoming as he recovers, but that investigators have recovered a firearm from the scene that is being held as evidence. 

Authorities also will consider whether the suspect was protected by Missouri’s “Stand Your Ground” law, the chief said.

The law says a would-be shooter defending life or property does not have to retreat before taking violent action.

As demands for accountability build, Mayor Quinton Lucas has promised a thorough investigation and appropriate action.     

“We will make sure we do all we can to be fair, to make sure we’re as expeditious as possible and more than anything to make sure that everyone, no matter their background, knows that justice can be obtained here in Kansas City,” he said.

Who is Ralph Yarl? 

The musically inclined as well as academically driven high school junior is described by his family as “a fantastic kid” who was looking forward to visiting West Africa before starting college.

Yarl attends Staley High School, where he is an “excellent student and talented musician,” North Kansas City Schools Superintendent Dan Clemens said in a statement Monday. 

“He maintains a stellar GPA while taking mostly college level courses," he 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." 

Yarl is a member of his school’s jazz and competition band, Spoonmore, his aunt, wrote on the fundraising page.

Brad Hudson, the Missouri All-State Band coordinator, said 1,500 students auditioned for the band in December, and Yarl was recognized in the “Honorable Mention Band.” Musicians in that category do not perform but are recognized in the program, he said. 

Yarl was also chosen among 330 rising high school juniors last summer to attend the Missouri Scholars Academy, a three-week residential program for the academically gifted, said Megan Lilien, who taught a college-level chemistry-based science class and spent about three hours in the lab with Yarl and about 17 other students each day of the program.

“He was curious, intelligent. He’s quiet, but he’s literally taking in the world. You just notice. He’s just observing everything,” she said. “He has this sweet face. He wasn’t the one who was talking all the time or answering all the questions, but you knew he was learning at all times. He was kind. He was definitely respected by everyone in the group.” 

Yarl's goal is to study chemical engineering in college, Lilien said.

On Monday, Spoonmore said her nephew had been released from the hospital Saturday, with Merritt adding that "he's stabilizing and recovering."

However, Spoonmore previously acknowledged on the fundraising page that Yarl 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,” she said.

Who is the suspect?

Little is known about Lester.

Phone calls to the address where Yarl was shot went unanswered Monday.

Police said Sunday that the shooter had been taken into custody and held for 24 hours, the maximum for a suspect in a felony until charges are filed. 

Police have not said what time the suspect was taken into custody, citing Missouri’s Sunshine Law, which allows records to be closed to the public in some limited circumstances.

“After consulting with the Clay County prosecutor’s office, the homeowner was released pending further investigation due to the need to obtain a formal statement from the victim and compile additional information for a case file to be presented,” Graves said.

Under Missouri law, a vast majority of felony suspects are released after 24 hours, but many are re-arrested once enough evidence is gathered to bring charges, she added.

Crump and Merritt criticized police the release, saying “there is no excuse for the release of this armed and dangerous suspect after admitting to shooting an unarmed, non threatening, and defenseless teenager that rang his doorbell.”