Ralph Yarl’s mother reveals horror injuries as Black teen had bullet lodged in head for 12 hours

Ralph Yarl had a bullet in his head for 12 hours after Andrew Lester shot him twice through a glass screen door

Rachel Sharp
Wednesday 19 April 2023 08:36 BST
Ralph Yarl's mother describes son's injuries from shooting

Black teenager Ralph Yarl had a bullet lodged in his head for a staggering 12 hours after an 84-year-old white homeowner shot him in the head when he got the wrong address and rang his doorbell, it has been revealed.

The 16-year-old’s mother Cleo Nagbe spoke out to CBS Mornings’ Gayle King on Tuesday about the horror injuries that her son suffered in the shooting that has sparked protests and raised questions about racial equality in the justice system.

“Ralph was shot on the top of his left eye – his frontal lobe and the top of his right arm,” she said.

“He had the bullet up here [in his head] for about 12 hours before it was taken out, so that injury is extensive.”

Ms Nagbe said that the “extensive” injuries mean that he has a long road ahead to recovery.

“The residual effect of that injury is going to stay with him for quite a while,” she said.

The teenager, a high school scholar, is now back at home surrounded by his family as he continues with his recovery from Thursday’s shooting in Kansas City, Missouri.

Ms Nagbe told CBS that Ralph’s younger twin brothers were supposed to go to a sleepover on the night of 13 April but that she was not keen on them staying over all night and wanted them home by 10pm.

At around 9.45pm she asked Ralph to go and pick them up.

“Being the boy that he is,” he said yes and went to collect them in his car.

He didn’t take his phone and got muddled up with the address.

Ralph ended up outside a home on 115th Street by mistake instead of the friend’s house on 115th Terrace in Kansas City, Missouri, on the evening of 13 April.

“He went and rang the doorbell. And he was supposed to stay outside, and his brothers were supposed to run outside, get in the car and they come home,” said Ms Nagbe.

“While he was standing there, his brothers didn’t run outside, but he got a couple of bullets in his body instead of a couple of twins coming up, out, and giving him a hug.”

Ralph Yarl was shot twice on Thursday
Ralph Yarl was shot twice on Thursday (AP)

Ralph allegedly rang the doorbell and the homeowner – 84-year-old Andrew Lester – opened fire on him through a glass screen door using a .32 caliber revolver.

The aspiring Texas A&M University student was shot twice – once in the head and once in the arm.

Prosecutors said that there is no indication Ralph and the homeowner exchanged any words with each other before the shooting unfolded and there is no footage of the encounter.

According to a probable cause statement, Mr Lester told police he was in bed when he heard the doorbell ring and so he grabbed a handgun.

When he saw Ralph, he claimed he was “scared to death” at the boy’s size and feared he was unable to defend himself given his elderly age.

He claimed he thought the boy was trying to break in and so shot twice through his exterior glass door, the documents state.

However, Ralph told police from his bed at Children’s Mercy Hospital that he only pressed the doorbell and did not try to enter the home.

He said he was waiting at the door when the man opened it and immediately shot him. He fell to the ground and was shot a second time, he said.

After being shot, he said he heard the shooter warn him: “Don’t come around here.”

Prosecutors also said that the investigation also found no evidence to suggest Ralph was trying to enter the property.

Ralph was rushed to hospital in critical condition.

He was released from hospital on Saturday to continue his recovery at home.

Ms Nagbe said that his return home needs to be “put [...] into perspective” as it was possible due to many family members being medical professionals.

Ralph Yarl’s mother and attorney Lee Merritt speak out
Ralph Yarl’s mother and attorney Lee Merritt speak out (CBS Mornings)

“He’s home but I want to remind everybody that Ralph is home because he is surrounded by a team of medical professionals,” she said.

Now, her son is now left replaying Thursday’s attack “over and over again”, she said,

“You can see that he is just replaying the situation over and over again. And that just doesn’t stop my tears either, because when you see your kid just sits there and constantly he just – tears are just rolling from both sides of his eyes, there’s nothing you can say to him,” she said.

She said that her son is able to communicate “when he feels like it” but he mostly “just sits there and stares and the buckets of tears just rolls down his eyes”.

While the teenager spent four days in hospital, the white homeowner walked free.

Mr Lester was finally charged on Monday afternoon with two felonies: assault in the first degree, which carries a punishment of 10 to 30 years or life imprisonment, and armed criminal action, which carries a punishment of 3 to 15 years.

However, more than 20 hours passed before Mr Lester was taken into custody. He surrendered to authorities on Tuesday before being released again less than two hours later after posting $200,000 bond.

Mr Lester was initially taken into custody on Thursday after the shooting and placed on a 24-hour hold.

However, under Missouri state law, a person can only be held for 24 hours on suspicion of a felony before officials must either charge or release them. Mr Lester was released after just two hours pending further investigation. The charges were announced later by Clay County prosecutor Zachary Thompson in a press conference on Monday afternoon.

Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves said at a press conference on Sunday that – due to Ralph’s injuries – police had been unable to get a formal statement from the victim. This was also contradicted by Ralph’s attorneys who said that the teenager gave an interview from his hospital bed on Friday.

While the police chief initially said that there was no evidence to date to indicate that the shooting was racially motivated, Prosecutor Zachary Thompson said while announcing the charges that officials now believe there was a racial element.

Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing Ralph and his family, said that they are meeting with the prosecutor on Tuesday and he hopes to learn what “racial element” investigators have found.

He told CBS Mornings that the suspect’s claim that he felt threatened by a Black boy ringing his doorbell “sounds awfully familiar”.

“Being Black has been seen as a threat often in this country. It is unjustifiable for him to use deadly force against this so-called threat. Again, Blackness is not a threat,” he said.

He added that the investigation itself shows bias in the treatment of the Black teen and the white shooter.

“We saw law enforcement respond by essentially criminalising the boy,” he said of Mr Lester’s lack of arrest.

“[Mr Lester] went home and slept in his bed that night,” he said.

Police booking photo of Andrew Lester, charged with shooting Ralph Yarl
Police booking photo of Andrew Lester, charged with shooting Ralph Yarl (Kansas City Police)

While Mr Merritt said they are happy that two felony charges have been brought, he has questions as to why Mr Lester has not been charged with attempted murder.

He added that, while Mr Lester’s age may be a factor in the case, the “current and former president of the United States is about that age”.

“He made a conscious decision to shoot a 16-year-old boy,” he said.

The shooting – which marks the latest in a growing number of shootings of Black people in America – has sparked protests in the city demanding justice and a GoFundMe to support the teen has now topped $2.7m.

A woman who identified herself as Ralph’s aunt described 16-year-old Ralph as a “fantastic kid” in the GoFundMe campaign.

“At school, he is a member of the Technology Student Association and Science Olympia Team. Jazz and competition band. He is a section leader in the marching band; a scholar and one of the top base 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,” it reads.

“Last summer, Ralph attended Missouri Scholar’s Academy, where he got a full 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.” Ralph’s teacher and friends describe him as “ a kind soul,” “quiet,” “friendly,” “well-mannered,” “always willing to help,” “super smart,” and a “musical genius.” Ralph was looking forward to graduating high school and finally getting the opportunity to visit West Africa before starting college. Life looks a lot different right now.”

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