Ralph Yarl: What We Know So Far About The Shooting Of Unarmed Missouri Black Teen

Authorities released the alleged suspect in what protesters believe was a racially motivated shooting.

Charges were not filed by Sunday night (April 16) against a suspect Kansas City, Mo., police held briefly in connection with the shooting of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl, prompting protests and demands for an immediate arrest in what many believe was a racially motivated shooting.

The Kansas City Star reported that Police Chief Stacey Graves tried to assure the public that her department is moving as quickly as possible to make an arrest and present the case to the Clay County prosecutor.

Speaking at a press conference Sunday, Graves explained that the homeowner who allegedly shot the unarmed Black teen was taken Thursday (April 13) into custody and held for just 24 hours, which is the maximum time that a suspect can be held in Missouri for a felony investigation without being formally arrested and charged.

Meanwhile, Yarl was hospitalized Thursday with a life-threatening injury but in stable condition, according to the police. Yarl’s family started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for his medical bills and other expenses.

Wrong House

investigators said Yarl was shot April 13 when he went to the wrong house to pick up his brothers from a friend’s house. Officers responded to the shooting around 10 p.m.

Yarl didn’t have his phone when he went a few blocks away from home to get his twin younger brothers, his aunt, Faith Spoonmore, wrote. He mistakenly pulled into the wrong 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. “My nephew fell to the ground, and the man shot him again. Ralph was then able to get up and run to the neighbor's house, looking for 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.”

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Suspect’s release prompts demands for arrest

Graves said Sunday the department released the suspect pending further investigation. Detectives found the gun used in the shooting at the scene but declined to confirm how many times the homeowner fired at Yarl.

To formally arrest the suspect, Graves said authorities need a victim statement, forensic evidence and other information. She said investigators don’t have a victim statement yet because of Yarl’s medical condition.

Another element complicating the case is whether the shooting is protected under the state’s “stand-your-ground” law, Graves said. According to NBC News, Missouri's stand-your-ground law says a person defending their life or property does not have to retreat before taking violent action.

Controversial stand-your-ground laws nationwide are linked to an increase in homicides. These laws have proliferated since George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teen, in Sanford, Fla. in 2012.

“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," civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represented Martin’s family and is now one of the lawyers representing Yarl, wrote.

“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,” Crump continued.

Co-counsel Lee Merritt tweeted, “Ralph is fighting for his life. This man must be arrested. We are on our way.”

Racially motivated?

Authorities have not identified the shooter or his race. Graves said her department is still investigating whether race was a motivating factor in this case. Speaking at the press conference Sunday, Mayor Quinton Lucas said he recognizes that many people believe the shooting was racially motivated, adding that officials are listening to community members’ concerns.

Crump said Yarl’s family members told him that the shooter is White, according to The Star. “It is inescapable not to acknowledge the racial dynamics at play,” he said.

Protests, outpouring of support

Merritt is planning a march in Kansas City to further activate the community members who have already started protesting. On Sunday, hundreds of people marched to the residence where Yarl was shot to demand justice.

Celebrities have also added their voices. “My heart completely broke when I learned this precious 16-year-old, who accidentally rang the door of the wrong address in an attempt to pick up his siblings, was shot in the head,” actress Halle Berry tweeted.

Scholar and gifted musician

“Ralph Pual Yarl is a fantastic kid, and I am not just saying this because he is my nephew. He truly is,” Spoonmore wrote.

Yarl’s aunt said he is a member of his school’s Technology Student Association, on the Science Olympiad team and a 2022 Missouri scholar academy alumni. He plans to attend Texas A&M University and major in chemical engineering.

Yarl also plays multiple instruments. He plays for the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of Kansas City and is a section leader in the school’s marching band, earning Missouri All-State Band recognition.

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