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After days of outrage over the shooting of a Black teen, officials charge the gunman

Ralph Yarl, 16, was shot and wounded by a homeowner after accidentally going to the wrong house to pick up his younger siblings in Kansas City, Mo.
Lee Merritt via Reuters
Ralph Yarl, 16, was shot and wounded by a homeowner after accidentally going to the wrong house to pick up his younger siblings in Kansas City, Mo.

Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old high school junior, was shot by a white homeowner after he went to the wrong address to pick up his brothers. The shooter was charged on Monday after criticism over delays.

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.

Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old Black 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 theKansas City Star.

Police have not released the name of the shooter, who was taken into custody shortly after the incident but released the next day.

In a statement Sunday night, civil rights attorneys Lee Merritt and Benjamin Crump, who are representing Yarl's family, demanded "swift action" to identify, arrest and prosecute the shooter.

"There can be no excuse for the release of this armed and dangerous suspect after admitting to shooting an unarmed, non-threatening and defenseless teenager that rang his doorbell," they said.

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."

Police have released few details about the shooting

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.

Yarl's family and lawyers have said that the shooter is white. Graves said Sunday that the information police currently have does not suggest that the shooting was "racially motivated," though she acknowledged the presence of "racial components" at play in the case.

The shooter has not been charged yet with any crimes

The homeowner was released from custody Friday. Graves said he is "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 the victim.

"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."

On Monday, Clay County Prosecutor Zachary Thompson said that his office had not yet received a referral from the police department.

"We are actively working with law enforcement in an attempt to speed up that process so that we can review the file when it is submitted and determine whether criminal charges are appropriate," Thompson said in a statement. "We ask the public to trust the system to achieve a just result."

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 $1.6 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.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan
Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
Jaclyn Diaz
Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.