Ralph Yarl still healing as family members raise awareness on traumatic brain injuries
This month, Ralph Yarl turned 17.
He celebrated with a Red Lobster seafood feast, a cake adorned with candles and a piñata stuffed with candy.
“We were just grateful that he was still here to have his 17th birthday,” said his aunt, Faith Spoonmore. “That was the biggest blessing.”
It’s been about six weeks since Yarl, a Staley High School junior, was shot in the head and arm by a Kansas City homeowner after mistakenly going to the wrong address in the Northland while trying to pick his younger brothers up from their friend’s house.
“Right now, Ralph is trying to get back to being a teenager,” Spoonmore said. “And he is trying to get back to playing music, he is trying to get back to go to school.”
The teen recently returned to a couple classes a week, Spoonmore said. But he’s not been well enough to attend school for a full day.
Yarl is eager to get back to playing music for as long as he wants, she said. For now, he’s still limited to 15 or 20 minutes of practice at a time. If he plays too long, he’ll be in pain later.
He continues suffering debilitating migraines that can make it difficult for him to get out of bed, Spoonmore said. He’s also had some issues with his balance. Emotionally, he also has a long road of healing ahead.
“This a really hard pathway to walk on,” she said. “That’s basically how I can explain it with a (traumatic brain injury) and a teenager that just wants his life back to where it was before this happened.”
“He wants to be free and able to fly,” Spoonmore added.
Memorial Day race for TBIs
On Monday morning, Yarl’s family members will gather from near and far to be part of the annual Memorial Day race at Loose Park called Going the Distance for Brain Injury.
Spoonmore said the race is about more than Yarl. There will be other victims of gun violence with traumatic brain injuries at the race whose stories haven’t already been told across the country, like Yarl’s has.
“We need to show our support for people who are dealing with TBIs, especially those people who get it from gun violence,” she said. ”That’s something that has become so common in America and it is so sad.”
She said it’s also a way to again say of gun violence: “This is not OK.”
Yarl’s story received widespread national and international attention, once again bringing to the forefront a conversation around race and racism in America.
On April 13, Yarl rang the doorbell at the home of an 84-year-old man in the 1100 block of Northeast 115th Street, where he thought he was picking up his twin brothers. However, Yarl had intended to go to a home one street over, on Northeast 115th Terrace.
Andrew Lester, the white homeowner accused of shooting Yarl, was charged four days later with first-degree assault and armed criminal action. Lester told police he saw Yarl through the glass front door and “was scared to death.”
Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson previously said there was a “racial component” to the shooting, but didn’t elaborate.
Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney representing the Yarl family, said the teenager was shot “because he was armed with nothing other than his Black skin.”
‘The real victim’
Spoonmore couldn’t comment on the ongoing court case against Lester, but said she instead wanted to bring the focus back to her nephew.
“I just want for people to remember who the real victim is in the situation,” she said.
On Monday, Stephen Salmon, the attorney defending Lester, asked a Clay County judge to grant a protective order for Lester, who he said is being harassed and fears for his well-being.
He said Lester was forced to relocate three times out of safety concern, and that Lester’s wife had to change nursing homes.
Salmon previously argued for case information to be sealed, saying there has been a “firestorm of inaccurate information” and mass speculation about Lester, including that Lester is being made out to be a racist without evidence. Because of this, he said, his client’s right to a fair trial could be compromised.
Lester is also having health problems, Salmon said in court Monday, where Lester was not in attendance. Salmon said Lester has lost about 40 pounds since he was charged in the shooting.
Spoonmore noted on Thursday that Yarl also lost weight while in the hospital. At one point he weighed only 140 pounds.
“Who are you trying to paint as a victim?” she asked in response to Salmon’s filings. “Who are you trying to get sympathy for, and why?”
Anyone who wants to run in support of Yarl can sign up using the code TEAMRALPH at www.biarun.org. Proceeds from the race will benefit the Brain Injury Association of Kansas & Greater KC.