A Black teenager who authorities say was shot in the head by an 84-year-old White homeowner after going to the wrong Kansas City address received a positive prognosis but still faces a long road to recovery, according to his attorneys.
In a new photo, 16-year-old Ralph Yarl appears sitting up on a bench alongside attorney Lee Merritt, according to an Instagram post Wednesday from activist and and family spokesperson Shaun King.
“He’s home and looks great. Ralph is a WALKING MIRACLE with a head of steel,” King wrote in the post, which Merritt reposted. “Had the bullet hit his head a fraction of an inch in any other direction he would probably be dead right now.”
Also on Wednesday, the homeowner, Andrew Lester, entered a not guilty plea in court on felony charges of assault in the first degree and armed criminal action.
Lester, who is out on $200,000 bond, attempted to speak with the judge throughout the proceeding but was not argumentative. Part of his bond conditions include reporting to police within 24 hours and once a month afterward. He cannot possess any weapons, must surrender his passport and remain in Missouri, and is ordered not to have any contact with Yarl or Yarl’s family members.
He is scheduled to be back in court on June 1.
“While charges have been filed, this remains an active investigation,” prosecutors said in a statement. “We are continuing to work with law enforcement to gather any and all evidence available in this case.”
CNN has not been able to reach Lester’s attorney.
The arraignment and health update come less than a week after Lester allegedly shot Ralph in the head and arm after the teen rang the man’s doorbell. Police and Ralph’s family said he was trying to pick up his siblings but went to the wrong address.
The homeowner opened fire through a locked glass door without any words exchanged because he thought the teen was trying to break in and was “scared to death” due to the boy’s size, according to statements in a probable cause document obtained by CNN.
The incident was one of a number of shootings in the past week involving young people being met with gunfire after apparently going to the wrong place in error. In rural New York, a 20-year-old woman who was in a vehicle that pulled into athe wrong driveway was fatally shot by the homeowner, and in Texas, two cheerleaders were shot in a supermarket parking lot after one mistook a man’s vehicle for her own.
The Kansas City case in particular raised further questions about the role of race in the shooting and about law enforcement’s treatment of Lester. Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson said, “There was a racial component to this case,” but did not elaborate.
Ralph’s shooting fueled protests in Kansas City and spurred a “Unity Walk” in support of the teenager on Tuesday by an estimated 1,500 students at Staley High School, where he is a junior, CNN affiliate KMBC reported.
Teen’s family says they expect full recovery
Those close to the family expressed their amazement that Ralph survived and is recovering well.
“Thursday night, doctors were scraping off bullet fragments off his brain. Saturday, he was released from the hospital,” Merritt told CNN on Tuesday night, calling his recovery a miracle.
“He has a prognosis of a full recovery, minus scarring and long term, maybe, CTE and Post Traumatic Brain Injury symptoms,” Merritt added.
Ralph and his mother, Cleo Nagbe, spoke with President Joe Biden by phone on Monday evening, a White House official told CNN. The conversation also covered their families, their love of music and Ralph’s dream of pursuing a chemical engineering degree at Texas A&M University, the official said. Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke with Ralph on Tuesday afternoon, according to Merritt.
According to King’s post, the conversation with Biden stretched far longer than the family expected and included an invite to the White House.
“It was actually a beautiful, thoughtful, meaningful, compassionate conversation,” King wrote. “The family expected that call to last for 2-3 minutes but they loved talking to each other so much that it carried on for about an hour. It was a surprising and special moment.”
The GoFundMe page started to help the Yarl family with medical expenses had garnered more than $3 million from more than 80,000 separate donations by Tuesday night – up from $2 million the night before.
“Ralph is currently at home with the family. He can ambulate and communicate. A true miracle considering what he survived,” Ralph’s aunt Faith Spoonmore posted in an update on the page.
Still, the teenager – who plays bass clarinet and is a band leader in school – faces a long road to recovery, both emotionally and physically, according to his aunt.
“He lost a part of himself that day. A lot has changed since that happened. The way in which he’s gonna walk through this world, it’s gonna be totally different because of what happened,” Spoonmore said.
Questions over Lester’s release
Questions remain over why Lester was released a few hours after being detained the night of the April 13 shooting.
That night, Ralph was asked to pick up his siblings and mistakenly went to 1100 NE 115th Street instead of 1100 NE 115th Terrace, police and Ralph’s family have said.
When he arrived at the house, Ralph said he rang the doorbell and waited a while before a man eventually opened the door and immediately shot him in the head, causing him to fall, the probable cause statement says. While the teenager was still on the ground, the man then fired again, shooting him in the arm, Ralph told police.
Lester told police he opened his interior door and “saw a black male approximately 6 feet tall pulling on the exterior storm door handle,” according to the document.
“He stated he believed someone was attempting to break into the house, and shot twice within a few seconds of opening the door,” the probable cause statement reads.
The boy told police he did not pull on the door, according to the probable cause statement.
Police responded just before 10 p.m. that night after receiving reports of a shooting. They arrived to find Ralph wounded in the street. The boy had gone to neighbors looking for help after he was shot, according to police.
Lester was taken into custody and then released less than two hours later, two representatives at the Kansas City Police Department detention unit previously told CNN. Thompson, the prosecutor, has said Lester was released because police recognized that more investigative work needed to be done.
Merritt told CNN Tuesday night that he hasn’t received a satisfactory answer as to why the suspect wasn’t arrested until Tuesday, days after the shooting.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas expressed his outrage and concern about the delay in the arrest as well as his displeasure that Lester was released on bond.
“I understand how these things work, but it’s awful, it’s unfortunate, that somebody who commits an offense like this, someone who I see as a threat to the public, because I don’t know what house he’s in right now,” he told CNN’s Don Lemon on Wednesday. “I don’t know if that’s a house that the next Amazon driver, or postal worker, or campaign worker may knock on the door, and then what? Then what does somebody have to worry about?”
Mayor says he believes teen was racially profiled
On Tuesday, Ralph’s attorney and aunt challenged the notion that the boy’s size could have been intimidating.
Ralph stands at 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds, Merritt said Tuesday night.
“He’s the least imposing kid that I’ve come across,” Merritt said. “He is a 16-year-old musician. He is not known for his physical prowess.”
Spoonmore also questioned how the boy could have looked threatening.
“There is no way you can see fear when you look at that kid – if you really look at him, and not just the color of his skin. There is no way you can see fear,” she said Tuesday morning.
Lucas, the mayor, said he believes Ralph was racially profiled by the shooter.
“To pretend that race is not a part of this whole situation would be to have your head in the sand,” Lucas said. “This boy was shot because he was existing while Black.”
Kansas City Councilman Eric Bunch said the interaction should not have ended in gunfire, whether Ralph had intended to knock on Lester’s door or not.
“You have a right to walk up to someone’s door and ring their bell,” Bunch said. “This is a stand your ground state, and I think that unfortunately leads often to cases like this. Add in implicit bias, and you have a recipe for disaster.”
It remains unclear whether “Stand your ground” laws will play a role in Lester’s case. The laws allow people to respond to threats or force without fear of criminal prosecution in any place where a person has the right to be.
Merritt told CNN he doesn’t believe such a defense would apply, saying Ralph was never a threat.
“Those are self-defense statutes,” Merritt said Tuesday morning. “Those are saying that you have the right to protect yourself against force exerted against you … He was never confronted with force. Ralph never even tried the door handle. He rang the doorbell, and he waited.”
CNN’s Eric Levenson, Taylor Romine, Cheri Mossburg, Paradise Afshar and Chris Boyette contributed to this report.