Family members said Yarl — who still bears an uneven scar on his forehead from the bullet that grazed his skull and left him with a traumatic brain injury — has struggled to reckon with what happened to him.

“Ralph minimized it as if nothing happened,” said his mother, Cleo Nagbe. “But the thing with trauma is that the body will process it when it’s ready. I knew it was coming.”

“At times, he wants to disappear,” she said.

Yarl has mentally struggled to recover from the shooting

Nagbe said her son suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, which she believes played a role in his totaling two vehicles in the past three months. In one of the accidents, he crashed into a tree.

Yarl said surviving the shooting has forced him to tend to his mental health. “It is a constant uphill battle,” he said.

A year ago, he was trying to pick up his siblings when he mistakenly went to the wrong house.

When Yarl rang the doorbell, the white homeowner, Andrew Lester, 85, fired multiple shots from a handgun, grazing Yarl in the head and striking him in the arm. Lester called police, telling them he fired because he was scared.

Dried egg on the front of the house in Kansas City, Mo., where Ralph Yarl, then 16, was shot in April 2023.Charlie Riedel / AP

Yarl’s shooting sparked protests around the country and demands for Lester’s immediate arrest. Lester surrendered to police days later after having been charged with first-degree assault, a felony, and armed criminal action. He has pleaded not guilty, and his trial is scheduled to start Oct. 7.

Yarl said that the shooting has changed how he interacts with strangers and that he now second-guesses ringing doorbells of houses of people he doesn’t know. Random encounters often make him feel scared and wary even if people are being courteous.

“If someone approaches me with kindness, of course, I’m going to be friendly with them,” he said. But somewhere in his subconscious, “there’s always a part of me that says that person could potentially” be dangerous, he said.

Yarl wants his shooting to serve a purpose 

The rising rate of gun violence in his hometown makes it even more difficult to heal.

Kansas City experienced its deadliest year on record last year, with 182 homicides, according to the police department. The previous record of 176 homicides was set in 2020.

People attend a rally to support Ralph Yarl.
People at a rally to support Ralph Yarl in Kansas City, Mo., in April 2023. Charlie Riedel / AP

Yarl and some of his classmates at Staley High School said they want his shooting to motivate people to combat gun violence.

“I just feel that we haven’t learned,” Yarl said, noting that there were protests and demonstrations on his behalf but that people are still using guns instead of solving their differences in a civil way.

Yarl said he sometimes feels guilty that his shooting, which drew national attention, didn’t lead to a decrease in gun violence. “It just feels like a failure on my part,” he said.

Yarl’s shooting wasn’t the only one in the past year that affected his classmates. There was also the shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade, where one person was killed and at least 20 other people were injured, and another near their high school during a basketball game, classmates said. 

His Staley classmate Samaria Bossell, 18, said shootings should be discussed at school as they occur.

“Our school should talk a little bit more about it. When the shooting happened last year, there was an announcement made, but there wasn’t a deep conversation about it,” she said, adding that counselors were available for the short term only.

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