CLAY COUNTY — The shooting of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl in a Kansas City North neighborhood has sparked national outrage after the shooter, who has yet to be publicly identified, was taken into custody on a 24-hour investigative hold and then released.
Under Missouri law, the shooter had to be released as no charges have been filed to date.
The shooting occurred Thursday night, April 13, after Yarl, a Staley High School student in the North Kansas City Public Schools District, knocked on the wrong door while attempting to pick up his younger siblings. Yarl was meant to go to a house on Northeast 115th Terrace, but went to 115th Street about a block away by mistake, according to Kansas City police. Kansas City PD stated the shooting took place in the 1100 block of NE 115th Street after 9:50 p.m.
Yarl's family said the teen was shot in the head by the homeowner after knocking on the wrong door. The man allegedly took a second shot at the teen, striking him again. According to Kansas City TV news reports, the teen was able to get up and run to attempt to get himself help, asking three different neighbors for assistance until someone helped.
The teen was rushed to a hospital.
The Yarl family and the community are now calling for justice, with a protest in the neighborhood where the teen was shot making national news by Sunday night.
Hundreds walked to the residence where Yarl was shot in Kansas City North. The Kansas City Defender, an outlet dedicated to social justice issues and Black culture in Kansas City, posted videos and photos from the protest to Twitter. As of Monday afternoon, the video post had been retweeted more than 8,300 times and liked by more than 31,000.
"Ralph Yarl life matters" pic.twitter.com/I053J7iVlk— The Kansas City Defender (@KCDefender) April 16, 2023
“This right here is a lot of love,” Faith Spoonmore, Ralph's aunt, said. “Ralph will feel a lot of love because this is a lot of people. This is amazing."
As of 1:30 p.m. Monday, April 17, a GoFundMe set up for Ralph’s medical expenses has raised more than $1.4 million.
“Ralph Pual Yarl is a fantastic kid, and I am not just saying this because he is my nephew. He truly is. At school, he is a member of the Technology Student Association and Science Olympiad Team, jazz and competition band. He is a section leader in the marching band, a scholar and one of the top bass clarinet players in Missouri. He recently earned Missouri All-State Band recognition with an honorable mention. He plays multiple instruments in the metropolitan youth orchestra. He is a 2022 Missouri scholar academy alumni. Ralph can often be found with a musical instrument. He loves them all,” wrote Spoonmore in the GoFundMe account description.
Last summer, Ralph attended Missouri Scholar’s Academy, where he got a college-life experience.
"His goal is to attend Texas A&M to major in chemical engineering. When asked how he plans to get into this university, he said, ‘Well, if they have a scholarship for music or academics, I know I can get it,'" wrote his aunt in the GoFundMe description.
Spoonmore said the teen had also been looking forward to graduating high school and getting the opportunity to visit West Africa before starting college.
“Life looks a lot different right now. Even though he is doing well physically, he has a long road ahead mentally and emotionally. The trauma that he has to endure and survive is unimaginable. He is our miracle. We have heard these types of stories many times, and unfortunately, most Black boys are not alive to get another chance,” wrote his aunt. “Ralph deserves to have the future that he has dreams about. He deserves to be the light that shows the world that love wins and that humanity is still good.”
The family’s lawyer, Ben Crump posted on Twitter, calling the shooting of the Black teen by a white man unjustifiable and demanded prosecution of the shooter. The family is also being represented by attorney Lee Merritt. As of Monday morning, #RalphYarl is trending on social media, with news outlets across the county reporting on the story and people, including celebrities like Justin Timberlake, Halle Berry and Patrick Mahomes making posts.
“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,” wrote the family's attorneys in a joint statement. "We demand swift action from Clay County 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."
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City also issued a statement on the shooting, noting “Missouri, specifically the Kansas City metropolitan area, remains one of the most unsafe locations for Black people in the country.”
“The facts surrounding the shooting of Ralph Yarl are an indictment upon racism and hate in Kansas City's culture, where unarmed Black children and adults are far too often the victims of intimidation and terror. We are a traumatized community living with the reality of our bitter wound within our community and city,” reads the board and leadership statement, which includes U.S. Congressman Emanuel Clever II as president. “We demand, based upon the information available to us, an immediate arrest in this case, a transparent accounting of the investigation and the facts of the case and full justice for Ralph Yarl and his family.”
On Monday, Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zach Thompson released a statement about the amount of public feedback his office received regarding the case.
"We want to assure the public that our office understands the public interest in this case and is working as expeditiously as possible to address the matter. At this point, we have not yet received a criminal referral from the Kansas City Police Department regarding this case," Thompson wrote. "However, 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. As always, it is our mission to ensure that justice is fully pursued and that the rights of all people in Clay County are protected and upheld by law."
Thompson said he and his office understand how frustrating it has been.
"As with any serious case submitted to our office, we will approach this case in an objective and impartial manner. We ask the public to trust the system to achieve a just result," he wrote. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who has been impacted by these terrible events. It is our desire and intention to keep the public informed of any developments and be as transparent as legally permitted throughout this process."
In a show of support and unity for Ralph, Staley students will take part in a unity walk Tuesday, April 18, at Staley High School.
"With his fellow members of the Falcon Brigade band playing, students will lock arms as they walk around the school in a circle. Many students will be wearing blue, Ralph’s favorite color. This display of unity is intended to support Ralph in his recovery and have a positive impact on the community," said NKC Schools Communication Director Susan Hiland Monday.
The unity walk is scheduled to take place at 10:30 a.m. media will not be allowed on school property for the event.
Hiland said students also collecting cards of compassion and support for Yarl on Monday.
"The Art Club is assisting with supplies to help students make cards for Ralph. The goal is to collect 1,000 cards to give to their friend as he faces a difficult recovery," she said.
In a statement sent to NKC families, Superintendent Dam Clemens said the district was shocked to hear of Ralph’s shooting and the district is dedicated to supporting the student and his family.
“Our counseling staff and leaders are available to provide all that may be needed for staff and students,” he wrote in the statement shared to Facebook by a district parent.
Clemens also noted he shares in feelings of anger of frustration felt by the community.
“We must allow time for the investigation to be completed. In the meantime, if your family needs support in processing this news, please do not hesitate to reach out to your school. NKC Schools is ready to support our students and community as we all move forward together,” he wrote.
During a press conference Sunday, KCPD Chief Stacey Graves said Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Thompson’s Office was consulted, and as a result of that consultation, the homeowner who shot Ralph was released “pending further investigation due to the need to obtain a formal statement from the victim and forensic evidence."
Graves said the investigation is ongoing.
“As soon as the case is complete, it will be presented to the prosecutors for their review,” she said, adding police recognize the frustration the criminal justice process can cause in the community.
“We want the community to know we are committed to justice in this case and every case and work every day to seek that justice for all victims of all crimes,” she said. “I want everyone to know that I am listening and I understand the concern that we are receiving from the community.”
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