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Man charged with shooting US boy Ralph Yarl, who rang the wrong doorbell while picking up his brothers
18 April 2023, 10:01
An 84-year-old white man in Kansas City, Missouri has been charged over the shooting of a black teenager who mistakenly approached his house while trying to pick up his younger brothers.
Andrew Lester, 84, has been charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action after the shooting of Ralph Yarl, 16. He was hit once in the head and once in the arm but survived.
Prosecutors have said there was a ‘racial component’ to the shooting but Lester was not charged with any hate crime.
Prosecuting attorney Zachary Thompson said: “We understand how frustrating this has been but I can assure you the criminal justice system is working and will continue to work.”
Police initially detained Mr Lester for questioning and let him go, sparking protests throughout the city on Sunday.
His home has been vandalised and protesters targeted his house, saying ‘black lives are under attack’.
Personal injury lawyer Benjamin Crump, who is representing the Yarl family, said: "You can't just shoot people without having justification when somebody comes knocking on your door - and knocking on your door is not justification."
Reverend Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, called the shooting a "heinous and hate-filled crime".
Vice President Kamala Harris wrote on Twitter that "no child should ever live in fear of being shot for ringing the wrong doorbell".
The Missouri Senate held a moment of silence for Yarl on Monday.
The civil rights attorneys for Yarl's family, Ben Crump and Lee Merritt, said in a statement that Mr Biden called Yarl's family and offered "prayers for Ralph's health and for justice".
"Gun violence against unarmed Black individuals must stop," the lawyers' statement read. "Our children should feel safe, not as though they are being hunted."
The assault charge carries a penalty of up to life in prison. Lester was also charged with armed criminal action, which has a penalty range of three to 15 years in prison.
Mr Thompson said Missouri's hate crime law, a violation of which is not part of the charge, is considered a lesser felony than first-degree assault, and carries a less severe penalty.
Missouri is among roughly 30 states with Stand Your Ground laws, which allow for the use of deadly force in self-defence, but the prosecutor determined the shooting was not in self-defence.
An arrest warrant was issued but Lester was not yet in custody, Mr Thompson said.
Ralph, an honour student and all-state band member, was supposed to pick up his two younger brothers on Thursday night when he approached the wrong house at roughly 10pm. He went to 115th Street instead of 115th Terrace.
Lester came to the door and shot Yarl in the forehead - then shot him again, in the right forearm.
No words were exchanged before the shooting.
But afterward, as Ralph got up to run, he heard Lester yell "don't come around here", the statement said.
Ralph ran to "multiple" homes asking for help before eventually finding someone who would call the police.
Lester told police that he lives alone and had just gone to bed when he heard his doorbell, according to the probable cause statement.
He said he picked up his gun and went to the door, where he saw a black male pulling on the exterior storm door handle and thought someone was breaking in.
Ralph was sent to pick up his twin younger brothers. He did not 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.
The fund set up to pay for Ralph's medical recovery has raised over $2.1m (£1.7m) so far.
He is believed to be "doing well physically" but has a lot of trauma to overcome emotionally.