A GoFundMe campaign launched to support a Black teenager who was shot in the head by a white homeowner when he accidentally went to the wrong address has soared past $3.2m in donations.
Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old high school junior, was shot twice last Thursday when he went to pick up his younger twin brothers from a friend’s house on 13 April.
Kansas City Police said that Ralph had gone to collect his siblings from a friend’s house on 115th Terrace in Kansas City, Missouri, but got muddled up with the address and accidentally went to a home on 115th Street by mistake.
There, Ralph allegedly rang the doorbell and the homeowner 84-year-old Andrew Lester opened fire on him, shooting him twice.
The Black teenager was rushed to hospital in critical condition while the white homeowner was initially detained – before being released without charge.
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. He is now due to appear in court on Wednesday.
Over the weekend, protesters, the victim’s family and a growing number of celebrities demanded justice for the 16-year-old and for the shooter to be criminally charged.
Donations have been flooding in on a GoFundMe campaign, set up to help pay for the boy’s recovery.
As of around 9am ET on Tuesday – just two days after its launch – a staggering $3.2m had been raised.
On the campaign page, a woman who identified herself as Ralph’s aunt described the teenager as a “fantastic kid” who had dreams of doing to Texas A&M University to major in chemical Engineering.
“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,” the page 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. 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.
“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. However, he will need a lot of help to get there. Funds from this account will be used for his medical bills and therapy. Any additional funds will be use for college expenses at Texas A&M, a trip to West Africa, and other expenses.”
The family described how Ralph had been on his way to pick up his twin younger brothers from their friend’s house a few blocks from his own home.
“He didn’t have his phone. He mistakenly went to the wrong house, one block away from the house where his siblings were. He pulled into the driveway and rang the doorbell,” the page read.
“The man in the home opened the door, looked my nephew in the eye, and shot him in the head. My nephew fell to the ground, and the man shot him again.”
Following the shooting, Ralph managed to stumble away to some other homes in the neighbourhood to get help, according to his family.
“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,” the family said.
In an update on Tuesday, the family thanked people for their support and donations for the teenager and confirmed that he is now recovering from his injuries at home.
“Ralph is currently at home with the family. He can ambulate and communicate. A true miracle considering what he survived.Each day is different. He has a long road ahead,” the GoFundMe read.
“However, we are very thankful that he is still here with us. I’ve been taking the time to read the emails and comments to Ralph. It warms our hearts to see him smile at all the kind words. Thank you so much for loving Ralph.”
The suspect was initially taken into custody on Thursday 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. The suspect was released pending further investigation.
Speaking before the announcement of the charges against Mr Lester, Mr Crump and Mr Merritt – who have previously represented the families of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd – condemned the release of the “armed and dangerous suspect” in a joint statement after taking the case.
In a joint statement, the attorneys said: “There can be 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.
“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.”
After charges were brought on Monday, Mr Crump said in a statement: “While this is certainly a step in the right direction, we will continue to fight for Ralph while he works towards a full recovery.”
While the police chief initially said that there was no evidence to date to indicate that the shooting was racially motivated, Clay County prosecutor Zachary Thompson confirmed in a press conference on Monday afternoon that “there was a racial component to the case”, although he would not give details on what had caused him to come to that conclusion.
The shooting – which marks the latest in a growing number of shootings of Black people in America – has sparked protests with hundreds marching through the area where the teenager was shot during a rally on Sunday.
Many carried placards reading “Black Lives Matter”, “Ringing a doorbell is not a crime” and “Justice for Ralph”, reported KSHB.