After days of outrage over the shooting of a Black teen, officials charge the gunman
Updated April 17, 2023 at 8:43 PM ET
Protests in Kansas City — and outrage nationwide — mounted this weekend over the shooting of a Black teenager whose family says he accidentally came to the wrong address to pick up his younger siblings.
On Monday evening, Clay County prosecutor Zachary Thompson identified the shooter as Andrew D. Lester, an 84-year-old white man. Thompson's office filed felony criminal charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action against Lester. Additionally, a warrant has been issued for the man's arrest, Thompson shared during a press conference.
Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old high school junior, survived the shooting on April 13. He was released from the hospital on Sunday and is now recovering at home with family, his father told the Kansas City Star.
When asked whether he believes the shooting was racially motivated, Thompson said nothing of that nature is clear in the probable cause documents. He said Yarl and Lester didn't appear to have any interaction before the shooting.
"We understand how frustrating this has been but I can assure the criminal justice system is working and will continue to work," he during the news conference.
This all comes after public outrage over officials' perceived delay in identifying and pressing charges against the person responsible for the teen's shooting. Though Lester was taken into custody shortly after the incident, he was released the next day. In the shooting's aftermath, officials remained largely tight-lipped on the case.
In a statement Monday, civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Lee Merritt said President Biden spoke with the teen and his family, whom they're representing. It was moments after this call that their clients were informed that prosecutors were pursuing charges against Lester, "the man who is responsible for the deplorable shooting of this innocent boy," the attorneys said.
"Gun violence against unarmed Black individuals must stop. Our children should feel safe, not as though they are being hunted. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, we will continue to fight for Ralph while he works towards a full recovery."
The circumstances of the shooting, paired alongside images of the 16-year-old student with his bass clarinet and younger siblings, sparked an emotional response in Kansas City and on social media. By Monday, even the vice president had weighed in.
"Let's be clear: No child should ever live in fear of being shot for ringing the wrong doorbell," Kamala Harris wrote on Twitter. "Every child deserves to be safe."
Thompson said officials took time to thoroughly review the case before pressing charges to ensure justice is done.
When asked why attempted murder or hate crime charges weren't pursued against Lester, Thompson said his office chose the charges that held highest level of possible prison time for the shooter.
Many details about the shooting are still unclear
Thompson offered few additional details on the shooting during Monday's press conference beyond what police had previously shared.
Shortly before 10 p.m. on Thursday, April 13, police were called to a residence in Clay County, Mo., in the northern part of Kansas City. They found that a teenager had been "shot in front of the residence by a homeowner," said Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves at a Sunday press conference.
The teenager was transported to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, authorities said. The homeowner was taken into custody. Investigators recovered a firearm from the scene.
According to Yarl's family, the teenager was planning to pick up his younger siblings from a friend's house. But he drove to the wrong address, his family says, confusing 115th Street for 115th Terrace.
"He parked in the driveway, went up to the door and rang the doorbell," his aunt Faith Spoonmore said in a video posted to social media. "The man inside opened up the door and shot him in the head through the glass door. When Raphael was on the ground, he shot him again." Those details were repeated Sunday by Lee Merritt, a civil rights lawyer representing Yarl's family.
Yarl was seriously injured but was able to run to a neighbor's house for help, his aunt said. He was hospitalized for three nights.
Citing the ongoing investigation, police refused to release details about the shooting, including how many times Yarl was shot or where he was injured. Police also declined to say whether the homeowner called 911.
Thompson revealed Monday that the teen was shot in head and arm and that Yarl didn't make any entry into the house at any point. Lester's charging documents indicate that he shot rounds through a glass door, Thompson said.
Graves acknowledged Sunday the "racial components" at play in the case.
More details on why police say Lester wasn't charged immediately after the shooting
Graves said previously that Lester was "cooperating" with police and not considered a flight risk.
Missouri law requires that a suspect must be charged within 24 hours or else be released, police said Sunday.
In conjunction with local prosecutors, police decided to release the shooter "pending further investigation," Graves said — including the need to obtain a formal statement from Yarl.
"A formal statement is planned and forthcoming as the teen's injuries allow," she said. "We recognize the frustration this can cause in the entire criminal justice process."
Missouri is among the 38 states with a Stand Your Ground law, a criminal defense doctrine that allows people to use physical force if they "reasonably believe" they are under threat, with no duty to retreat. The state also has a "castle doctrine," which generally allows a resident to use deadly force against someone who unlawfully enters their home.
Yarl is a talented high school musician with college aspirations
On social media, family members posted photos and mementos of Yarl and his achievements: A recruitment letter from Yale's undergraduate admissions office; an invitation to participate in a 15-day performance tour of Europe with other Missouri student musicians; an honorable mention by the Missouri All-State Band for his bass clarinet ability.
Yarl's goal is to study chemical engineering at Texas A&M University and visit West Africa before starting college, his aunt wrote in a GoFundMe page. The fundraiser has already raised more than $2.1 million.
"Even though he is doing well physically, he has a long road ahead mentally and emotionally," she wrote. "The trauma that he has to endure and survive is unimaginable."
Over the weekend, Yarl's story spread widely on social media, including Instagram and TikTok. Several high-profile celebrities with large followings, including Halle Berry, Kerry Washington and Justin Timberlake, posted about the case and encouraged their followers to urge local authorities to arrest and prosecute the shooter.
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