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Ralph Yarl earns national merit award months after being shot in head

The 17-year-old was one of just six students in his Kansas City school district to score in the top 3% on the National Merit Qualifying Test.
Ralph Yarl earns national merit award months after being shot in head
Posted at 11:55 AM, Oct 25, 2023

Just six months after being shot in the head for going to the wrong house to pick up his siblings, Ralph Yarl is now being recognized with a prestigious award for his academic excellence.

The 17-year-old high school senior is one of just six students in his Kansas City school district to be granted the National Merit Commended Award. The top honor is given to students across the country who score in the top 3% on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test

The award also includes a Letter of Commendation from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which can be included when submitting college applications. Commended students may also qualify for special scholarships that are offered by NMSC corporate sponsors.

Ralph was launched into the national spotlight six months ago after being shot in the head and arm on April 13 for mistakenly going to the wrong house to pick up his brothers. Many have accused the alleged shooter, an 84-year-old White homeowner named Andrew Lester, of being racially motivated to open fire. He has since been charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action and his trial has been set for October of next year.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump spoke with Scripps News about the shooting as news of the charges broke.

"To shoot a teenager just for ringing your doorbell cannot be the message that we send to society," he said. "We have to remain vigilant until there's a conviction. Far too often we've seen charges where they shoot unarmed Black teenagers and scream 'stand your ground,' and then the jury acquits them. So we are not going to start being relieved until we get a conviction."

SEE MORE: Trial date set for man who shot Black teen Ralph Yarl

Meanwhile, Ralph's story has garnered so much traction that it even caught the attention of President Joe Biden, who called and spoke with the teen and his family shortly after the shooting to wish Ralph a swift recovery. Ralph's mother, Cleo Nagbe, told Gayle King on "CBS Mornings" that her son, an accomplished clarinetist, and the president bonded over music during their conversation. 

In the months since, Ralph's progress has been nothing short of tremendous. His father, Paul Yarl, told Scripps News Kansas City that his son's recovery has been an "emotional roller coaster" filled with prayer, shock, disappointment and gratitude, mentioning that the outpouring of support from the community has been a great source of strength for their family. 

"As shocking as it was to hear that Ralph was shot, it’s also shocking to see all the support coming toward Ralph and the family, all the prayers," he said. "Yes, we are grateful."

SEE MORE: Teen shot by homeowner helps raise awareness for brain injuries

Following the shooting, Nagbe said her son has suffered from headaches and a foggy brain that sometimes makes it difficult to concentrate.

"Brain injury is a process — it’s not an event. It takes time," Nagbe said. "There are emotional ups and downs. You have their concentration problems, you have their, 'I wanna stay in my room all day,' you have all of that. So it takes a community, it takes a family, it takes a support group — it takes all of that."

Ralph, who's currently in his senior year of high school, has said he plans to tour some colleges this fall and hopes to study engineering in the future.

“Whatever he (Ralph) chooses to do, he’s gonna be one of the best, and ultimately it’s going to erase some of that news out there about the shooting," Paul Yarl said. "He’s gonna do good. And those stories will overcome the shooting — I believe so."

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