Kansas City police are not being honest about why they haven’t arrested a white homeowner who shot a Black teenager in the head after the 16-year-old honors student accidentally rang the wrong doorbell, according to a family representative.
Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing Ralph Yarl’s family, said in a social media post on Monday that Ralph gave a bedside interview to investigators while hospitalized on Friday, directly contradicting a narrative offered by police that no arrest had yet been made because cops had thus far been unable to take a victim statement. Merritt also said the alleged shooter—who is married and in his 80s, according to public records associated with the address of the shooting—was detained for two hours, not 24 hours, as KCPD Chief Stacey Graves said previously.
“I cannot say for certain why the appropriate arrest hasn’t been made by law enforcement,” Merritt said. “I can say with absolute certainty the excuses being offered are not true.”
Investigators with the KCPD have submitted their case files to the Clay County Prosecutor’s Office to weigh potential charges, according to a departmental news release issued late Monday afternoon.
Ralph’s grandfather, Sebastian Nagbe, told The Daily Beast in a text message on Monday that his grandson was “hanging in there.”
The talented musician and aspiring scientist “continues to improve,” is responsive, and is home after spending three nights in the hospital, his father, Paul Yarl, told The Kansas City Star. Yarl added that Ralph’s mother, a nurse, took time off from work to tend to her son.
Ralph went to pick up his younger brothers from a friend’s house on April 13, according to an April 14 video posted to TikTok by Ralph’s aunt, Faith Spoonmore. However, she said Ralph did not have his phone to figure out the directions and pulled into the driveway of the wrong house. The house he was looking for was on 115th Terrace but he mistakenly went to 115th Street, one block over.
“A man opened up the door, looked [Ralph] in the eye, and said, ‘Don’t ever come back here,’ as he shot him in the head,” Spoonmore, on the brink of tears, said in the video. “My nephew fell down, and the man shot him again.”
Spoonmore said that her nephew had to get up and run to three different neighbors’ homes for help. When he finally reached the third house, she said, someone agreed to help him after forcing him at gunpoint to put his hands up and lie on the ground.
“He laid on the ground like he passed out before the neighbor called the police for help,” Spoonmore said. “…You hear these stories about racism in America but you have this little bit of hope because you feel like it’s so far away, it would never happen to your family. It would never happen to you. But God, the people in this country are sick.”
“It’s so hard to believe that this amount of hate lives in people,” she continued. “This is America.”
The alleged gunman was taken into police custody for a 24-hour hold, but was released “due to the need to obtain a formal statement from the victim,” Police Chief Graves said Sunday. In an email Monday, Kansas City Police Department spokesman Sgt. Jacob Becchina declined to confirm the suspected shooter’s identity.
However, Yarl family attorneys Ben Crump and Lee Merritt said there was no reason for the alleged gunman to be released.
“There is 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,” the attorneys said Monday. “We demand swift action from…prosecutors and law enforcement to identify, arrest, and prosecute to the full extent of the law the man responsible for this horrendous and unjustifiable shooting.”
Michael Kelly, a family friend whose wife works in oncology at a hospital with Ralph’s mother, told The Daily Beast that he was “baffled” by the shooting.
“This is your neighbor,” Kelly said, adding that he “definitely” felt racism was a factor in the shooting. “If this was a white woman at night, would [the neighbor] have shot her? I 100 percent doubt it.”
And although Graves acknowledged the “racial components” of the shooting while saying Sunday that investigators did not have evidence it was racially motivated, another neighbor who wished to remain anonymous told The Daily Beast that race was “a component.”
“Ferguson was here,” she said, referencing the fatal shooting of Mike Brown at the hands of police. “It just sucks. …I hope [the shooter] gets charged. Regardless of what his reasoning was for doing it, there is no good reason to ever do that to somebody.”
The neighborhood is a mixed one, the neighbor continued, noting there are “kids of all races” living there. The street names are confusing, and mail is delivered to the wrong homes on a regular basis. It would be “super easy” for a person to confuse one for the other, according to the neighbor. “I just want to make sure the world doesn’t think every neighbor here is okay with this shit happening,” she said.
In a statement on Monday, North Kansas City Schools Superintendent Dan Clemens described Ralph as “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. Thankfully, we know he is now recovering alongside family.”
Clemens said he was experiencing “anger, frustration, shock and disbelief” over the incident that nearly took the Staley High School junior’s life, and vowed to provide “additional resources” this week at all schools throughout the district.
In a GoFundMe page organized by Spoonmore, who did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment, she described her nephew as a “fantastic kid” who plays several instruments and looked forward to majoring in chemical engineering in college.
“Life looks a lot different right now,” Spoonmore wrote.
The fundraiser had already raised $1.7 million by Monday afternoon.