Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian voice outrage over shooting of Black teen Ralph Yarl

Celebrities Naomi Campbell, Halle Berry, and Viola Davis have also voiced support as outrage grows over the shooting and the treatment of the man responsible

Rachel Sharp
Thursday 20 April 2023 09:33 BST
Ralph Yarl: Teenager 'shot by homeowner' after going to wrong house to pick up siblings

Hollywood actors and celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian have spoken out to demand justice for a Black teenager who was shot in the head by a white homeowner in Kansas City.

Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old high school junior, was shot twice last Thursday when he accidentally went to the wrong house to pick up his younger twin brothers.

The teenager spent days in hospital while the white homeowner – 84-year-old Andrew Lester – is still walking 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. He is now due to appear in court on Wednesday.

Protesters have been demanding justice for Ralph and a growing chorus of celebrities are weighing in on the case, voicing outrage over the shooting and the treatment of his accused attacker.

Actor Gwyneth Paltrow wrote on Instagram: “#RalphYarl accidentally rang the doorbell of the wrong house in KCMO. He was trying to pick his younger siblings. The white owner of the hours shot this Black child in the head. He shot him again as Ralph bled out. The shooter is free. No charges. This is America.”

Kim Kardashian also used her platform to condemn the shooting, sharing an infographic of what happened to the teenage boy.

Halle Berry posted Ralph’s image on Twitter and urged her Twitter followers to contact the local prosecutor to urge him to bring charges against the homeowner.

“His name is #RalphYarl and I’m sick and tired of this feeling…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 by a man who didn’t want him on his property. This innocent child is now fighting for his life,” she wrote.

“This could be your child. This should NOT happen. Please do something today! Join me and please contact Prosecutor Zachary Thompson and demand an immediate arrest and bring the appropriate charges: Building: James S. Rooney Justice Center Address: 11 South Water Street, Liberty, Missouri 64068 Phone: 816-736-8300 Fax: 816-736- 8301 Email: prosecutor@claycopa.com”

Fellow Black actor Viola Davis also took to Instagram to demand action.

“ALL HANDS ON DECK!!” she wrote, directing people to the posts of civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Lee Merritt.

Actor Kerry Washington wrote on Twitter: “Instead of waiting around for #LoveIsBlind…make a phone call. For #RalphYarl. Demand that Prosecutor Zachary Thompson make an arrest and bring the appropriate charges. 816-736-8300.”

Supermodel Naomi Campbell, actor Amy Schumer, model and TV personality Chrissy Teigen and actor Justin Timberlake also shared social media posts about the case as they all rallied behind the family of the 16-year-old boy now fighting his injuries.

A GoFundMe launched to help pay for the boy’s medical bills had topped $3.2m by Wednesday morning.

Kansas City Police said that Ralph had gone to collect his siblings from a friend’s house on 115th Terrace in Kansas City, Missouri, on the evening of 13 April.

Police said that the teenager 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 opened fire on him through a glass screen door using a .32 caliber revolver.

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.

Ben Crump and Lee Merritt, the prominent civil rights attorneys now representing the victim and his family, said that the aspiring Texas A&M University student was shot twice – once in the head and once in the arm.

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 did not pull the door – but only pressed the doorbell.

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.”

In the GoFundMe, Ralph’s family wrote: “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.

“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.

He was rushed to hospital where the family said he was listed in critical condition.

Two days later, Ralph was released from hospital and is now recovering from his injuries at home.

Ralph Yarl (pictured) was shot twice on 13 April
Ralph Yarl (pictured) was shot twice on 13 April (Ben Crump Law via AP)

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. Mr Lester was released 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 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, Mr Thompson said while announcing the charges that prosecutors did believe there was a racial element.

The shooting – which marks the latest in a growing number of shootings of Black people in America – has been branded a hate crime and has sparked protests in the city demanding justice.

Hundreds of residents took to the streets of Kansas City on Sunday to march through the Northlands area where the teenager was shot.

Many carried placards reading “Black Lives Matter”, “Ringing a doorbell is not a crime” and “Justice for Ralph”, reported KSHB.

A pregnant family friend of Ralph Yarl’s parents told The Kansas City Star that she fears for her unborn child.

“How do you protect a Black kid?” said Patience Gaye.

Ralph Yarl lies in hospital bed after being shot twice
Ralph Yarl lies in hospital bed after being shot twice (Shaun King)

“What are we supposed to do now? We left our countries because we don’t want to be killed. That’s why we left. They came to America for a better life. How is this a better life?”

A huge rally also took place on Tuesday in Kansas City in support of the Black teen.

Speaking before the charges were announced, 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.”

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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