The family of a 16-year-old boy shot twice in the head by a white man last week has labeled the act a hate crime after saying the teenager was just trying to pick up his younger siblings from a friend’s house.
The boy, Ralph Yarl, “mistakenly went to the wrong house” in a Kansas City neighborhood on Thursday, according to a GoFundMe set up by his aunt to handle medical expenses.
Yarl pulled up the 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,” his aunt, Faith Spoonmore, wrote. “My nephew fell to the ground, and the man shot him again.”
Still conscious, Yarl ran for help, but Spoonmore alleged that he “had to run to 3 different homes” before someone came to his aid, and then only after ordering the 16-year-old to lie on the ground with his hands up. He was hospitalized, but “has a long road ahead mentally and emotionally,” the fundraiser page reads.
The alleged gunman, who has not been identified, was taken into custody and brought to a police station to give a statement. Placed on a 24-hour hold, he was released pending further investigation, something the chief of the Kansas City Police Department spent much of a short Sunday press conference justifying.
“The vast majority of cases to include violent crime involve the suspect being released pending further investigation,” Chief Stacey Graves said. “In this case, the prosecutor requires more information from investigators that would take more than 24 hours to compile throughout the weekend.”
She explained that detectives were working to compile forensic evidence and take a formal statement from Yarl. It was not clear if he was in a condition to make a statement on Sunday.
“We want the community to know that we are committed to justice in this case and every case and work everyday to seek that justice for all victims of all crimes,” Graves said, adding that she personally was “listening” and understood the community’s “concern.”
On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of protesters gathered to demonstrate outside of the alleged gunman’s home on 115th Street—a short drive from 115th Terrace, the friend’s house where Yarl’s brothers had actually been located.
“That right there,” Spoonmore said at the gathering, gesturing to the house, “is a lot of hate. This right here”—she pointed to the crowd—“is a lot of love.”
Civil rights attorneys Lee Merritt and Ben Crump said they have offered pro bono services to the family, according to the Kansas City Star. “Ralph is fighting for his life,” Merritt tweeted on Sunday morning. “This man must be arrested. We are on our way.”
On the fundraising page, Spoonmore called her nephew “a fantastic kid” who dreams of attending Texas A&M for chemical engineering.
Last summer, she said, he attended the Missouri Scholars Academy, a program for high-achieving students. Yarl is also a talented bass clarinet player who leads a section of his school’s marching band, and plays multiple instruments in the Northland Symphony Youth Orchestra.
“Ralph can often be found with a musical instrument,” Spoonmore wrote. “He loves them all.”
She also noted that Yarl was lucky to be alive, explaining, “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.”
“This was not an ‘error.’ This is a hate crime,” she posted on Instagram soon after the incident. “You don’t shoot a child in the head because he rang your doorbell.”