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Ralph Yarl, teen shot after mistakenly going to the wrong house, opens up about recovery in “GMA” exclusive

ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Ralph Yarl, the teenager who was shot after mistakenly going to the wrong house to pick up his siblings, opened up about the harrowing experience for the first time in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts that is set to air on Tuesday morning.


Yarl told Roberts that his mother asked him to pick up his twin brothers from a friend’s house, but he had never been there before and accidentally arrived at the wrong address. According to Yarl, he pulled his car into the driveway and walked up the steps and rang the doorbell and then waited for “a long time” until an older man with a gun opened the door. They were separated by another glass door, Yarl recalled.

“He points [the gun] at me … so I kinda, like, brace and I turn my head,” Yarl told Roberts. “Then it happened. And then I’m on the ground … and then I fall on the glass. The shattered glass. And then before I know it I’m running away shouting, ‘Help me, help me.'”

Yarl was shot in the head and in the right arm on the evening of April 13 by Andrew Lester — a homeowner in Kansas City, Missouri, according to police. The teenager, who celebrated his 17th birthday last month, suffered a traumatic brain injury, his family previously told ABC News.

Lester, 84, was charged with one count of felony assault in the first degree and one count of armed criminal action, also a felony, Clay County prosecuting attorney Zachary Thompson said during a press conference on April 17.

Lester pleaded not guilty and was released on April 18 on a $200,000 bond. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 31 after a judge agreed to partially seal the evidence in the case in response to a protective order filed by Lester’s attorney, Steven Salmon.

“In this case, the court entered an order prohibiting the dissemination of information from the discovery by both the prosecution and defense,” Salmon told ABC News in a statement on Monday. “As a party to the criminal case, any statement from Mr. Lester would certainly violate that order. I can say Mr. Lester is looking forward to the upcoming preliminary hearing.”

Yarl told Roberts that after he was shot, he was bleeding from his head and was surprised that he was as “alert” as he was. He said that his “instincts took over” and he went looking for help, but according to Yarl, he had to approach multiple homes after the first house he approached declined to help him and locked the door.

“So then I go to the next house across the street. No one answers. And the house to the right of that house, I go there and someone opens the door and tells me to wait for the police,” he said.

Yarl’s mother, Cleo Nagbe, told Roberts that after her son didn’t return from picking up his siblings, she was worried and drove around looking for him.

Shortly after, she said she received a phone call from police, telling her that Ralph was shot so she headed straight to the hospital.

“It was traumatic,” she said.

According to a probable cause statement obtained by ABC News, Lester told police that he “believed someone was attempting to break into the house” and grabbed a gun before going to the door because he was scared.

Lester, who is white, claimed that he saw a “Black male approximately 6 feet tall” pulling on the door handle and “shot twice within a few seconds of opening the door.” He said that the Black male ran away and he immediately called 911.

Police spoke with Yarl on April 14 while he was recovering at Children’s Mercy Hospital. According to the probable cause statement, he told police that he rang the doorbell and said that he didn’t pull on the door knob.

Yarl’s aunt, Faith Spoonmore, told ABC News last month that after the shooting her nephew didn’t want to go back home because he was shot in the neighborhood where he also lived.

But since then, Yarl and his family have relocated. He said that he is seeing a therapist and hoping to continue his recovery by focusing on his passions for chemical engineering and for music.

“I’m just a kid and not larger than life because this happened to me,” he said. “I’m just gonna keep doing all the stuff that makes me happy. And just living my life the best I can, and not let this bother me.”

Yarl, who played the bass clarinet during his interview on GMA, also plays the saxophone, the tenor saxophone, the clarinet and the contrabass clarinet. He told Roberts that music helped him cope during his recovery.

“Classical music kinda resonates with me,” he said. “Just the feeling that it creates and the fact that you can make it yourself … it kinda invigorates me.”

Nagbe said that her son’s recovery has been a “blessing” and the family is “overwhelmingly grateful” for the outpouring of love and support that they have gotten since the shooting — from people donating to the fund, to those writing letters of support for Ralph.

“Every day I sit and I read a letter and I cry,” she said.

Nagbe told Roberts that Ralph and his family have been writing thank you notes to the people who sent him letters.

“I just feel that if they took the time to send Ralph a letter, I owe them the time to write them a thank you note,” she said.

Asked what justice looks like for him, Yarl said, “Justice is just the rule of the law, regardless of race, ethnicity, and age.”

“[Lester] should be convicted for the crimes that he made,” he added. “I am past having any personal hatred for him.”

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