Homeowner accused of shooting Black teen who rang wrong doorbell will face 2 felony charges

Apr 18, 2023, 10:15 AM | Updated: 12:00 pm

An 84-year-old homeowner who allegedly shot and wounded Ralph Yarl, a Black teen, after the 16-year...

FILE: Ralph Yarl is seen in a photo shared by family in a GoFundMe page. (GoFundMe)

(GoFundMe)

(CNN) — An 84-year-old homeowner who allegedly shot and wounded Ralph Yarl, a Black teen, after the 16-year-old went to the wrong home to pick up his siblings will face two felony charges, Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson announced early Monday evening.

Andrew Lester will face charges of assault in the first degree and armed criminal action. Authorities have issued a warrant for his arrest and he’s not currently in custody, Thompson said.

“I can tell you there was a racial component to this case,” Thompson said at a news conference without elaborating.

When asked whether Lester may also face hate crime charges, the prosecutor said that in Missouri, a hate crime is a lower level of felony, and that adding such charges could constitute double jeopardy. A probable cause document released Monday evening similarly doesn’t shine any light on why authorities believe race played a role in this case.

There is no indication that Lester or Ralph spoke to one another before the Thursday evening shooting, Thompson said. The prosecutor added there is no evidence that the teen entered the home and preliminary evidence shows Lester opened fire on the teen through a glass door with a .32 caliber revolver.

There is no video of the encounter, Thompson said.

Family attorney Ben Crump said in a statement, “While this is certainly a step in the right direction, we will continue to fight for Ralph while he works towards a full recovery.”

Two representatives at the Kansas City Police Department detention unit previously told CNN the suspect was taken into custody on April 13 just before midnight but was released less than two hours later, at 1:24 a.m. on April 14.

Thompson said Lester was only held for several hours after he was initially detained because police recognized right away that more investigative work needed to be done. Thompson originally said Lester was 85 years old but a probable cause document obtained by CNN shows he is 84.

CNN has not been able to reach Lester for comment. A lawyer was not listed in his previous booking report.

According to a probable cause statement, Lester told investigators he was “scared to death” by Yarl’s size and his inability to defend himself at age 84. He told investigators he was in bed when he heard his doorbell ring and grabbed a handgun before answering the door.

“He stated he believed someone was attempting to break into the house, and shot twice (through an exterior storm door) within a few seconds of opening the (main) door,” a police detective writes in the court document.

After the shooting, Lester repeatedly expressed concern for Ralph, according to the statement.

Wounded teen recovering at home, family rep says

Officers responded April 13, just before 10 p.m., after receiving reports of a shooting. When they arrived, they found Ralph, 16, who had been shot outside a residence by a homeowner. Police and Ralph’s family have said he went to the wrong address, mistaking 115th Terrace for 115th Street.

Ralph told a detective who visited him at a hospital on Friday that he had pressed the doorbell and waited, according to the probable cause statement.

“(He) stated the male inside took a long time but finally opened the door holding a firearm. He stated he was immediately shot in the head and fell to the ground,” the detective writes.

Ralph was shot twice, with bullets striking him in the left forehead and right arm, according to the probable cause statement.

A neighbor CNN spoke with said they did not hear the shooting because they were asleep. But did say once awake, “We came outside (the victim) was laying in the street surrounded by a few of our neighbors.”

The teen has come home from the hospital but is still struggling after the ordeal, Crump said on CNN on Monday afternoon.

Crump said Ralph and his family are happy he lived after being shot in the head. They hope for a full recovery because Ralph is young and strong, he added.

“He’s not out of the woods yet, but the great thing is, (medical officials) said he was stable enough to go to his home,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

When Crump spoke Tapper, the prosecutor had yet to announce charges and Crump said it made no sense the shooter hadn’t been arrested the night of the shooting.

“Nobody can tell us if the roles were reversed, and you had a Black man shoot a White, 16-year-old teenager for merely ringing his doorbell that he would not be arrested,” Crump said. “I mean, this citizen went home and slept in his bed at night after shooting that young Black kid in the head.”

At a weekend rally, community and family members marched to and demonstrated in front of the man’s house, calling for charges to be filed. Protesters marched as they chanted, “Justice for Ralph” and “Black lives matter,” and carried signs reading, “Ringing a doorbell is not a crime” and “The shooter should do the time,” footage from CNN affiliate KMBC shows.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas tweeted Monday afternoon that he had spoken with Ralph’s mother.

“I shared with her my personal commitment to ensuring we find justice for her son, her family, and all hurting now in our City,” he wrote.

Teen is a marching band leader

A GoFundMe started by Ralph’s aunt, Faith Spoonmore, to help the family raise money for medical expenses had garnered more than $2.3 million in donations by Monday evening.

Ralph had been looking forward to graduating from high school and visiting West Africa before starting college, his aunt wrote in the fundraiser.

The teen is a section leader in a marching band and could often be found with a musical instrument in hand, Spoonmore wrote. Most recently, Ralph earned Missouri All-State Band honorable mention for playing the bass clarinet, according to a North Kansas City Schools’ newsletter in February. He also plays multiple instruments in the metropolitan youth orchestra, his aunt wrote.

He is a member of his school’s Technology Student Association and Science Olympiad Team and is a 2022 Missouri Scholars Academy alumni, she wrote.

“Last summer, Ralph attended Missouri Scholar’s Academy, where he got a full college life experience,” Spoonmore wrote. “His goal is to attend Texas A&M to major in chemical Engineering. When asked how he plans to get into this university, he said, ‘Well, if they have a scholarship for music or academics, I know I can get it.’ ”

“Life looks a lot different right now. Even though he is doing well physically, he has a long road ahead mentally and emotionally. The trauma that he has to endure and survive is unimaginable,” the GoFundMe post reads.

Dan Clemens, superintendent of North Kansas City Schools, released a statement saying Ralph is “an excellent student and talented musician”

“We are devastated to learn one of our students was involved in a horrific incident last week,” Clemens wrote. “Our thoughts are with the Yarl family, and I know I speak for all of us when we wish him a full and quick recovery. Ralph is an excellent student and talented musician. He maintains a stellar GPA while taking mostly college level courses. While he loves science and hopes to pursue that career path, his passion is music. Thankfully, we know he is now recovering alongside family.”

Neighbor says she called 911

Emerging details of the incident illustrate the apparent strength and bravery shown by the high school junior after he was shot.

A neighbor, who asked not to be identified, tells CNN she called 911 after Ralph came to her door, bleeding.

She was directed to stay inside her home by the emergency operator, for her safety as the shooter’s location was unknown.

“I wanted to help him, but they kept saying that we don’t know where the shooter is at,” the woman said.

She complied initially, then went outside with towels to help suppress the bleeding.

“I kneeled down next to him, and I said what’s your name … Who shot you?”

She said Ralph explained he “was supposed to pick up my brothers.”

“We figured out then he went to the wrong street, which is no excuse for what happened,” she said. “This is somebody’s child. I had to clean blood off of my door, off of my railing. That was someone’s child’s blood. I’m a mom … this is not OK.”

While awaiting the ambulance, bleeding from injuries to the left side of his head and his right arm, the neighbor said Ralph told her he runs on the high school track team and plays the bass clarinet in band.

“He was very alert,” she said. “He is a very strong man. Very brave.”

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Homeowner accused of shooting Black teen who rang wrong doorbell will face 2 felony charges