KANSAS CITY, Mo. (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, Missouri, said.
Clay County Prosecutor Zachary Thompson said Monday that his office is working with police to quickly review the case and determine if the homeowner should be charged.
“We understand how frustrating this has been, but we can assure the public that the system is working,” Thompson said in a news release. “As with any serious case submitted to our office, we will approach this case in an objective and impartial manner.”
At a news conference on Sunday, Police Chief Stacey Graves acknowledged the outpouring of anger over the shooting.
“I want everyone to know that I am listening, and I understand the concern we are receiving from the community,” Graves said.
Yarl, 16, was identified online by relatives. He was shot Thursday night when he drove to a home a few blocks away from his own to pick up his twin younger brothers. He didn’t 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. By Monday morning, more than $1.1 million had been raised from 29,000 donations.
Spoonmore wrote that Yarl pulled into the driveway and rang the doorbell.
“The man in the home opened the door, looked my nephew in the eye, and shot him in the head,” Spoonmore wrote. When Yarl fell to the ground, “the man shot him again.”
Despite being shot twice, the teen was able to run to neighbors to seek help.
“Unfortunately, he had to run to 3 different homes before someone finally agreed to help him after he was told to lie on the ground with his hands up,” Spoonmore wrote.
Yarl is a gifted musician, a bass clarinetist who earned Missouri All-State Band honorable mention and who plays several instruments in the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of Kansas City, Spoonmore wrote. He’s also a member of his school’s Technology Student Association and Science Olympia Team. He hopes to attend Texas A&M to study chemical engineering.
Spoonmore said Yarl is “doing well physically” but has a lot of trauma to overcome emotionally.
“He is our miracle,” she said. “We have heard these types of stories many times, and unfortunately, most Black boys are not alive to get another chance.”
Police have not identified the shooter or his race, though civil rights attorney Ben Crump told The Kansas City 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.
Graves said investigators also will consider whether the suspect was protected by “Stand Your Ground” laws, which allow for the use of deadly force in self-defense. Missouri is among around 30 states with such laws.
State Rep. Marlene Terry, a St. Louis Democrat who chairs the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, said the shooting underscores the danger of the laws.
“These laws breed a society of violence and fear while providing cover for those who harm, maim and kill others,” state Rep. Marlene Terry, a St. Louis Democrat who chairs the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, said in a statement.
“Missouri Republicans’ extreme gun laws have established a culture of fear,” Democratic House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said in a statement. She said the us-versus-them mentality “makes Missourians less safe and less free, and too often, Black lives suffer the most from this fear-driven, shoot-first culture.”
A message seeking comment from Republican Gov. Mike Parson, a staunch gun rights supporters, wasn’t immediately returned.
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.
“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 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.