An 84-year-old white man in Kansas City, Missouri has been charged with first-degree assault for shooting a black teenager that mistakenly approached his house while trying to pick up his siblings.
Prosecuting attorney Zachary Thompson said at a news conference that there was a “racial component” to the incident last Thursday night when Andrew Lester twice shot 16-year-old Ralph Yarl, who is recovering at home after being released from the hospital. But nothing in the charging documents says the shooting was racially motivated, Mr Thompson clarified.
“We understand how frustrating this has been but I can assure you the criminal justice system is working and will continue to work,” Mr Thompson said at a news conference.
The shooting angered many in Kansas City and across the country. Civic and political leaders – including President Joe Biden – demanded justice. Some, including lawyers for Yarl, pressed the racial dimension of the case.
Reverend Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, called the shooting a “heinous and hate-filled crime”.
Vice President Kamala Harris wrote on Twitter that “no child should ever live in fear of being shot for ringing the wrong doorbell”.
The Missouri Senate held a moment of silence for Yarl on Monday.
The civil rights attorneys for Yarl’s family, Ben Crump and Lee Merritt, said in a statement that Mr Biden called Yarl’s family and offered “prayers for Ralph’s health and for justice”.
“Gun violence against unarmed Black individuals must stop,” the lawyers’ statement read. “Our children should feel safe, not as though they are being hunted.”
The assault charge carries a penalty of up to life in prison. Lester was also charged with armed criminal action, which has a penalty range of three to 15 years in prison.
Mr Thompson said Missouri’s hate crime law, a violation of which is not part of the charge, is considered a lesser felony than first-degree assault, and carries a less severe penalty.
Missouri is among roughly 30 states with Stand Your Ground laws, which allow for the use of deadly force in self-defence, but the prosecutor determined the shooting was not in self-defence.
An arrest warrant was issued but Lester was not yet in custody, Mr Thompson said.
Yarl, an honour student and all-state band member, was supposed to pick up his two younger brothers on Thursday night when he approached the wrong house at roughly 10pm.
No words were exchanged before the shooting, the probable cause statement said. But afterward, as Yarl got up to run, he heard Lester yell “don’t come around here”, the statement said.
Yarl ran to “multiple” homes asking for help before finding someone who would call the police, the statement said.
Lester told police that he lives alone and had just gone to bed when he heard his doorbell, according to the probable cause statement.
He said he picked up his gun and went to the door, where he saw a black male pulling on the exterior storm door handle and thought someone was breaking in.
A number for Lester was not in service on Monday evening and it was not immediately clear whether he had an attorney to speak on his behalf.
The shooting happened in a middle class neighbourhood in north Kansas City.
Yarl was sent to pick up his twin younger brothers. He did not have a phone with him and went to the wrong block, his aunt, Faith Spoonmore, wrote on a GoFundMe page set up to help pay medical bills.
Police chief Stacey Graves said that Yarl’s parents asked him to pick up his brothers at a home on 115th Terrace, but he mistakenly went to 115th Street, the Kansas City Star reported.
Mr Spoonmore said Yarl is “doing well physically” but has a lot of trauma to overcome emotionally.
By Monday afternoon, the home where the shooting happened had been vandalised. Black spray-paint on the side of the house showed a heart with 16 in the middle. Eggs splattered the front windows and the door.
A message seeking comment from Republican Governor Mike Parson, a staunch gun rights supporter, was not immediately returned.