Homeowner in Missouri shoots Black teen who went to wrong house

Authorities are investigating the shooting of Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old who was shot in the head after ringing the doorbell of a wrong home in Kansas City while trying to pick up his younger brothers

Ralph Yarl
Protestors march on April 16, 2023, in Kansas City, Missouri, to bring attention to the shooting of Ralph Yarl, 16, who was shot when he went to the wrong house to pick up his brothers.Susan Pfannmuller (AP)

The investigation into the shooting by a homeowner of Ralph Yarl, a Black teenager who went to the wrong house to pick up his younger brothers, includes questions about whether it was racially motivated, authorities in Kansas City said. Police are quickly preparing evidence for prosecutors in Thursday’s shooting, Chief Stacey Graves said Sunday at a news conference at police headquarters.

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

The Kansas City Star reported that the 16-year-old victim, identified online by family members as Yarl, was hospitalized Thursday night after he was shot while trying to pick up his younger twin brothers from a friend’s house. Police said he went to the wrong house and was shot there.

Officials would not confirm the number of times the homeowner shot the victim or where his injuries were. Police initially said Yarl was stable but had a life-threatening injury. His current condition has not been released, other than that he is stable.

Police have not identified the shooter or his race, though civil rights attorney Ben Crump told The Star the shooter appears to be white. Information that officials have now does not point to the shooting being racially motivated, but Graves said that aspect also remains under investigation.

Investigators also will consider whether or not the suspect was protected by “Stand Your Ground” laws, Graves said.

Yarl was meant to pick up his brothers from a friend’s house on 115th Terrace. He ended up ringing the doorbell at a home on 115th Street, Faith Spoonmore, the teen’s aunt, wrote online.

A man opened the door, saw Yarl and shot him in the head. When Yarl fell to the ground, the man shot him again. Yarl got up and ran from the property, but he had to ask at three different homes before someone helped him, Spoonmore wrote.

Kansas City police officers said they responded around 10 p.m.

Graves said Sunday that the homeowner was taken into custody Thursday and placed on a 24-hour hold. While searching the scene for evidence, detectives found the firearm used. Law enforcement released the suspect pending further investigation after consulting with the Clay County prosecutor’s office.

Missouri law allows a person to be held up to 24 hours for a felony investigation. At that point, the person must be released or arrested and formally charged. In order to arrest someone, law enforcement needs a formal victim statement, forensic evidence and other information for a case file to be completed, Graves said.

Because of the teen’s injuries, Graves said, police haven’t been able to get a victim statement.

Mayor Quinton Lucas, who attended the news conference, said police understand the community’s concern that the shooting could be racially motivated. Some members of the police department attended Sunday’s protest in the neighborhood where the shooting took place to listen to community concerns, he said.

“This is not something that has been dismissed, marginalized or diminished in any way. This is something that is getting the full attention of the Kansas City Police Department,” Lucas said.

Crump told The Star on Sunday that the family has retained his Florida-based law firm.

“You can’t just shoot people without having justification when somebody comes knocking on your door and knocking on your door is not justification,” Crump said. “This guy should be charged.”

Crump has represented families in several high-profile cases, including those of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, as well as Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

Crump said the homeowner initially shot the teen in the head and then a second time after the boy fell to the ground. The family also has retained Lee Merritt, a Texas-based civil rights attorney who previously represented the family of Cameron Lamb, who was fatally shot by Kansas City police detective Eric DeValkenaere in 2019.

Crump said that judging by what he was told by the teen’s family, the shooter is white.

“It is inescapable not to acknowledge the racial dynamics at play,” he said.

Even though Yarl “is doing well physically, he has a long road ahead mentally and emotionally,” Spoonmore wrote in a GoFundMe she started to raise money for Yarl’s medical bills and other expenses.

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