Man in Custody for Shooting of Black Teen Ralph Yarl
Andrew Lester turned himself in to authorities a day after being charged with armed assault in the shooting of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl, the sheriff’s department in Clay County, Missouri, announced Tuesday. Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson first announced the arrest at a news conference on Monday, The Washington Post reported. Yarl, 16, was shot in the head and then shot one more time when he went to pick up his younger twin brothers at a friend’s house in Kansas City, Missouri, and accidentally rang the doorbell at the wrong address.
The shooting has sparked questions regarding whether the incident was racially motivated. During the press conference, Thompson said the charging documents do not indicate that.
“We understand how frustrating this has been but I can assure the criminal justice system is working and will continue to work,” Thompson said.
According to a Sunday statement from the police, officers responded to reports of a shooting outside a residence just before 10 p.m. Thursday night. The teen, Yarl, had been shot in the head and the arm, civil rights attorneys Lee Merritt and Ben Crump, who are representing Yarl and his family, said in a joint statement. Despite being shot multiple times, Yarl ran to neighbors’ houses seeking help, according to a Gofundme started by Yarl’s aunt, which by Monday evening had raised nearly $1.8 million for Yarl’s medical bills and other expenses. “Unfortunately, he had to run to three different homes before someone finally agreed to help him after he was told to lie on the ground with his hands up,” part of the Gofundme description said.
Miraculously, Yarl survived the shooting. After three nights in the hospital, his father, Paul, told the Kansas City Star that Yarl was released on Sunday from the hospital. His mother, a nurse, took time off of work to care for him at home. “He continues to improve. He’s responsive and he’s making good progress,” Yarl’s dad told the newspaper.
Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves said Sunday that the homeowner was taken into custody following the shooting, but he was then released, pending further investigation. Graves said officers needed to get a formal statement from Yarl, collect forensic evidence, and gather additional info before they’d have a case file ready to present to prosecutors. On Monday, a phone recording at the office of Clay County Prosecutor Zachary Thompson assured callers the office was “working as fast as possible” with the police to expedite the investigation.
Crump, the family’s attorney, said on CNN that the fact that the suspect was initially allowed to return home after the shooting was evidence that there are “two Americas” — one for white people, and one for Black people. “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.” Meanwhile, Police Chief Graves said Sunday that in the vast majority of cases involving violent crime, the suspect is released within the first 24 hours of the investigation. Graves also told the press she recognized the “racial components” of the case.
A high school junior, Yarl is an All-State band kid, a section leader with his school marching band, and plays multiple instruments in the metropolitan youth orchestra, his aunt wrote in the Gofundme summary. One of his classmates described him to the Star as a math and science wiz. According to the GoFundMe, he hopes to attend Texas A&M University and major in chemical engineering, she wrote. “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,’” his aunt wrote.