Family of teen shot on Northland doorstep speaks about his achievements, the road ahead

Published: Apr. 17, 2023 at 10:26 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 18, 2023 at 7:26 AM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Ralph Yarl, 16, was released from the hospital Saturday after being shot in the head and arm on the doorstep of a man who exchanged no words with him before shooting.

The description of the shooting, at 10 p.m. Thursday night in Clay County, comes from court documents charging 84-year-old Andrew Lester with felony assault and armed criminal action. The documents filed Monday indicate Yarl rang his doorbell, Lester came to the door with a revolver in hand, unlocked the main door but kept the glass storm door locked, then fired two shots through the glass door without any words being exchanged in advance.

Yarl’s family said he was sent to pick up his twin brothers at a nearby house and got the address wrong.

Yarl is a junior at Staley High School. In a show of support, the district has organized a “unity walk” at the school at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. Students will lock arms as they walk around the school in a circle.

The criminal charges came four days after the shooting. In the interim, concern about racial profiling as a possible factor rose to a fever pitch on a national level. Lester is white. Yarl is Black.

“Do you think if he was a white 16-year-old boy and he rang that door, do you think it would’ve been the same outcome?” Yarl’s aunt, Faith Spoonmore, asked.

The family secured the services of prominent civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Lee Merritt.

She and Yarl’s father described Ralph as a sweet boy, an academic achiever and talented musician who had a bright future. How the shooting will affect that future is still uncertain.

His father, Paul Yarl, is his namesake. Ralph is the teen’s middle name.

“He walked from the lobby to the car when he was going home,” he said. “That made us so happy.”

He described Ralph affectionately as a “geek” interested in science and technology, with plans to be a chemical engineer.

“All his peers love him. His teachers love him,” Paul Yarl said. “There was never trouble that had his name next to it.”

The North Kansas City School District superintendent of schools wrote: “Ralph is 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.”

Spoonmore said he is a top-notch bass clarinet player in the jazz and competition bands, section leader of the marching band, and a member of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra.

“He loves music. He loves to learn. He loves things that challenge his brain,” Spoonmore said. “He is just, he’s our Ralph. You know? Like, he’s a sweet kid. He’s a really sweet kid. And, yes, a harmless kid.”

She said he planned to parlay his musical skill and academic achievement into a scholarship to Texas A&M for chemical engineering. She said he may be getting around physically, but it’s not clear yet how his mental acuity will be affected by what she called a traumatic brain injury.

Staley High School’s art club is now assisting with supplies to help students make cards for Ralph. The goal is to collect 1,000 cards.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to reflect that Yarl was released from the hospital on Saturday. Although the media was notified of it on Monday, he had actually been released over the weekend.