Hundreds of Miles Apart, Separate Shootings Follow Wrong Turns
Hundreds of miles apart, the two men stood in courtrooms, accused of shooting at someone who had made a wrong turn.
In a courthouse in Fort Edward, N.Y., Kevin Monahan, 65, was denied bail on Wednesday in a case where prosecutors say he fatally shot Kaylin Gillis, 20, after she and a group of friends mistakenly drove up his driveway while looking for another friend’s house.
In a small courtroom in Liberty, Mo., Andrew D. Lester, 84, carried a cane as he pleaded not guilty on Wednesday in the shooting of Ralph Yarl, 16, who had come to Mr. Lester’s door mistakenly thinking it was the address where his younger siblings were waiting to be picked up.
The two shootings were among recent cases involving gun attacks on individuals who were simply lost, or had seemingly made a minor misstep during an everyday task. On Tuesday, in Elgin, Texas, two teenage cheerleaders were shot just after midnight after apparently trying to get into the wrong car in a supermarket parking lot. The police said Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr., 25, was charged with deadly conduct, a felony.
In Missouri, Mr. Lester, who lived alone, told the police after the shooting that he fired his gun because he saw someone on his front step apparently trying to enter and was “scared to death” of being physically harmed. After being shot twice, Ralph was released from the hospital and is now recovering at home.
In New York, a lawyer for Mr. Monahan, Kurt Mausert, disputed the authorities’ account of the shooting on Saturday night, saying that several vehicles were speeding up Mr. Monahan’s driveway, with engines revving and lights shining, which “certainly caused some level of alarm to an elderly gentleman who had an elderly wife.”
As the two men made court appearances in Missouri and New York, basic outlines of their histories were emerging from neighbors and relatives.
Neighbors said that Mr. Monahan, a self-employed builder and longtime resident whose home sits on about 40 mostly wooded acres, had a reputation as a sometimes surly character who loved dirt bikes and largely kept to himself.
Mr. Monahan, who is being held in jail, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. “He sincerely regrets this tragedy,” Mr. Mausert said of his client on Tuesday, calling him a “decent person” who “feels terrible that someone lost their life.”
Prosecutors have laid out a vivid and frightening depiction of Mr. Monahan’s actions on Saturday night, claiming that he used a shotgun to fire at the car as Ms. Gillis and her friends tried to descend his driveway. After the shooting, friends of Ms. Gillis frantically drove five miles down a rural highway, looking for a cellphone signal to call for help.
Adam Matthews, who lives next to Mr. Monahan and has known him for decades, said his neighbor could be aggressive and intimidating. “He was a difficult guy,” Mr. Matthews recalled, adding he was “known to have altercations with people.”
He added that Mr. Monahan was “always concerned with trespassing” and that the wide opening of his driveway resembled a road to some drivers. At one point, he said, Mr. Monahan had draped a chain across the mouth of his driveway, though the chain was no longer there last weekend.
In Missouri, Mr. Lester said little in court, speaking softly and answering basic questions, during his arraignment on charges of assault in the first degree and armed criminal action.
Mr. Lester lives in a modest beige house outfitted with surveillance cameras, though city data shows there is relatively little crime in his quiet neighborhood near the northern edge of Kansas City. Neighbors said that his wife was recently moved to a nursing home, leaving him alone in his house. He spent considerable time at home in a living room chair, watching conservative news programs at high volume, a relative said.
Mr. Lester, who had already been released on bond, did not speak publicly outside of his courtroom appearance, and attempts to reach him earlier were not successful. Mr. Lester’s lawyer did not respond to a phone call. No one answered the door at Mr. Lester’s home, and he did not respond to a note left at the house, which had a sign outside alerting visitors to security cameras and a “No Solicitors” placard by the door.
Klint Ludwig, a grandson, said in an interview that he and his grandfather used to be close. The two had become estranged in part, Mr. Ludwig said, because Mr. Lester had embraced right-wing conspiracy theories.
Mr. Lester used to tell his grandson about serving in the military decades ago, and recount stories of working as a mechanic in the airline industry, where he said he was friends with Black technicians. They celebrated holidays together with extended family who lived in the Kansas City area. Mr. Ludwig, who described himself as left wing, said that Mr. Lester kept a large number of firearms in his home, including rifles and handguns.
But at a family gathering during the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Ludwig said, Mr. Lester began sharing a conspiracy theory involving Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the infectious disease expert.
“I was like, ‘Man, this sounds crazy,’” recalled Mr. Ludwig, 28. “I told him it was ridiculous.”
The two have not had a relationship since, Mr. Ludwig said.
Mr. Ludwig, who lives in a suburb of Kansas City, described his grandfather as prone to making remarks that he considered disparaging about Black people, gay people and immigrants.
Another grandson, Daniel Ludwig, said in a text that it was not accurate to describe his grandfather as espousing extreme right-wing views and conspiracy theories, but he declined to comment in detail. “These people are not close to him like I am,” he said of other family members, adding that his grandfather was “literally too nice” and had “spoiled” other relatives.
Zachary Thompson, the Clay County prosecutor, said this week that there was a “racial component” to the shooting but did not elaborate. Mr. Lester is white; Ralph is Black.
Some neighbors said this week that they doubted that the shooting was racially motivated. One man who lived near Mr. Lester but declined to give his name said he had some sympathy for the 84-year-old, especially since he had been living alone after his wife was moved to a nursing home. The man speculated that Mr. Lester was frightened and disoriented when he went to his door with his gun.
Karen Allman, who lives down the street from Mr. Lester, said that while she did not know him, she was not surprised that the conflict occurred. Many of her neighbors are older, she said, and “set in their ways.”
“The fact that you would open up the door and just shoot somebody? I don’t understand,” she said. “If you’re that scared, why did you open up the door? And that gentleman has security cameras all over.”
Mary Clayton, 81, was married to Mr. Lester when she was a young woman, a union that produced three children. She now lives in California and has not spoken to Mr. Lester in decades.
It has been so long since she saw her ex-husband that when she initially saw his face on the news, she didn’t recognize him. Then one of her daughters called on Tuesday, in shock over the shooting.
She remembers the 14-year marriage as troubled: Mr. Lester was prone to fits of rage, smashing objects in their home when he was angry. Back then, when she summoned the police, they told her that it was his house and that he could do as he liked.
“I was always scared of him,” Ms. Clayton said. “It doesn’t surprise me, what happened.”
Reporting was contributed by Chelsia Rose Marcius, Traci Angel, Carey Gillam, Hurubie Meko and Lauren Fox. Kitty Bennett contributed research.