KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A sixteen-year-old boy was supposed to pick up his two younger brothers last week when he rang the doorbell of the wrong Kansas City, Missouri, house. A man came to the door and shot Ralph Yarl in the head — then shot him again after he fell to the ground.
Yarl stumbled to one house, then another, and then a third before anyone helped the Black teen, who was released from the hospital Sunday and is recovering at home. Now community leaders, Democratic lawmakers and an attorney for Yarl’s family are demanding justice and questioning whether race played a role in the shooting.
Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson said his office is working with police to quickly review the case and determine if the homeowner should be charged. He did not address whether race was a factor in the shooting; the Kansas City police chief said that, so far, race does not appear to be a factor.
“We understand how frustrating this has been, but we can assure the public that the system is working,” Thompson said in a statement. “As with any serious case submitted to our office, we will approach this case in an objective and impartial manner.”
At a news conference on Sunday, Police Chief Stacey Graves said the shooter was taken into custody Thursday and placed on a 24-hour hold but released after consultation with the prosecutor’s office. The firearm used was found at the home, she said.
Rev. Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, said in a statement Monday that the homeowner should immediately be arrested for what he called a “heinous and hate-filled crime.”
“The state of Missouri, specifically the Kansas City metropolitan area, remains one of the most unsafe locations for Black people in the country,” Howard said.
The Missouri Senate held a moment of silence for Yarl on Monday. “We pray for justice,” Democratic Sen. Lauren Arthur said.
The shooting happened Thursday night in a middle class neighborhood in north Kansas City. Yarl was sent to pick up his twin younger brothers. He didn’t have a phone with him and went to the wrong block, his aunt, Faith Spoonmore, wrote on a GoFundMe page set up to help pay medical bills. By Monday afternoon, $1.4 million had been raised from 37,000 donations.
Spoonmore wrote that Yarl pulled into the driveway and rang the doorbell.
“The man in the home opened the door, looked my nephew in the eye, and shot him in the head,” Spoonmore wrote. When Yarl fell to the ground, “the man shot him again.”
Spoonmore wrote that Yarl ran to three different homes “before someone finally agreed to help him after he was told to lie on the ground with his hands up.”
Yarl is a bass clarinetist who earned Missouri All-State Band honorable mention and who plays several instruments in the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of Kansas City, Spoonmore wrote.
A statement from the North Kansas City School District described Yarl as “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.”
Crump told The Associated Press that Yarl is “like the child you would want to call your own.”
Yarl was released from the hospital Sunday and is recovering at home, his father, Paul Yarl, told the Kansas City Star. Spoonmore said Yarl is “doing well physically” but has a lot of trauma to overcome emotionally.
“He is our miracle,” she said. “We have heard these types of stories many times, and unfortunately, most Black boys are not alive to get another chance.”
Police have not identified the shooter or his race, though Crump said the family provided information indicating he was white. He did not elaborate. Information that officials have now does not point to race as a factor in the shooting, according to Graves, but that remains under investigation.
By Monday afternoon, the home where the shooting happened had been vandalized. Black spray-paint on the side of the house showed a heart with “16” in the middle. Another showed what appeared to be Yarl’s initials with “16” below the letters. Eggs splattered the front windows and the door.
The shooting has caught the attention of national figures.
“Let’s be for justice, which is a continuum,” Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., wrote on Twiter. “That means the man who did this should be charged AND we need to work for the legislative and heart change to prevent these tragedies.”
“His name is #RalphYarl and I’m sick and tired of this feeling … my heart completely broke when I learned this precious 16-year-old, who accidentally rang the door of the wrong address in an attempt to pick up his siblings, was shot in the head,” actress Halle Berry tweeted.
Graves said investigators will consider whether the suspect was protected by “Stand Your Ground” laws, which allow for the use of deadly force in self-defense. Missouri is among around 30 states with such laws.
“These laws breed a society of violence and fear while providing cover for those who harm, maim and kill others,” state Rep. Marlene Terry, a St. Louis Democrat who chairs the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, said in a statement.
Democratic House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said Missouri’s lenient gun laws have created an us-versus-them mentality and “too often, Black lives suffer the most from this fear-driven, shoot-first culture.”
A message seeking comment from Republican Gov. Mike Parson, a staunch gun rights supporters, wasn’t immediately returned.
Because of the teen’s injuries, Graves said, police haven’t been able to get a victim statement. Crump, who has represented families in several high-profile cases, including those of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, called it “asinine” that charges have to wait for an interview with Yarl.
“We all believe that if the roles were reversed and this was a Black citizen who shot a 16-year-old for merely ringing his doorbell, they would have arrested him, and he wouldn’t have slept in his bed that night,” Crump said.
Prosecutions of shootings cases in which the defendants claimed self-defense have seen mixed results.
Martin was walking home from a convenience store in February 2012 in Sanford, Florida, when he was killed by George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense and was later acquitted during a jury trial. Martin’s death helped lead to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Michigan, Ted Wafer is serving a 17-year prison sentence in the 2013 death of Renisha McBride in suburban Detroit. The 19-year-old Black woman was on the porch of Wafer’s home when he shot her. Wafer is white. Prosecutors speculated that McBride, who was drunk and had crashed her car hours earlier, might have been confused when she arrived on Wafer’s porch.
Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri. Nick Ingram in Kansas City and Summer Ballentine in Columbia, Missouri, contributed to this report.