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Broken: Murder weapons in Yorlets case, others traced to careless gun owners

Guns in Yorlets murder came from unlocked cars
Posted: 11:35 AM, Feb 17, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-22 21:09:55-05
Kyle Yorlets photo.jpg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — If every bullet has a story, the bullet that killed a Nashville musician may speak volumes.

An exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation traced the guns used against Kyle Yorlets - and discovered that both weapons were stolen from unlocked cars.

Critics say the Yorlets case - as well as other murders reviewed by NewsChannel 5 Investigates - reveals a story about a Broken system that lets kids get easy access to guns. Gun rights advocates oppose any effort to force gun owners to be more responsible.

"I'm all for being able to carry a gun, but there are responsibilities that go along with that," Kyle's father, Larry Yorlets, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

"And if you're not willing to accept those responsibilities, not only for the safety of yourself and your family, but for the rest of the community, then you don't deserve to have the right to carry that gun."

Kyle Yorlets had big dreams.

But the 24-year-old's dreams were shattered in February 2019 by a bullet from one of those stolen guns.

Send us your tips: investigate@newschannel5.com

A Metro police chaplain called Kyle's parents up in Pennsylvania with the news.

"She's said, 'Are you by yourself?' - and I knew then it was bad," his mother, Deb Yorlets, recalled as she choked back tears. "I begged her to tell me, but she wouldn't. She said, 'Go find someone.'"

Larry was just arriving back home.

"Of course, your initial reaction is, are you sure it was him? Did you check his wallet to make sure the ID was right? That's the stuff I was asking," he remembered.

Police charged five teens - ages 12 to 16 - with the murder.

They also seized two 9mm handguns.

One of them, according to police, was stolen from a car outside an upscale Brentwood-area apartment building, the District at Seven Springs.

The car's owner told police he left it unlocked.

The other was stolen with a car outside a North Nashville market.

The driver left the engine running while she ran inside.

"How does a person live with themselves like the lady that left her car running with the gun?" Deb Yorlets asked. "How does she live with herself knowing what what happened with that gun? I couldn't."

In Nashville, the number of guns stolen from cars has skyrocketed from 152 a year in 2012, hitting almost 750 in 2019.

A map created by NewsChannel 5 Investigates shows guns were stolen over the past five years from cars in virtually every neighborhood.

(Click map below for more details. If you find any newsworthy examples in the data, please email investigate@newschannel5.com.)

And police data shows Kyle Yorlets wasn't the only victim last year of a stolen gun.

  • Antoinette Avunt's 20-year-old son, Aquan, was gunned down with a .40-caliber handgun stolen just outside Pearl-Cohn High School during an auto burglary.
  • Deroe Jones, 30, was killed with a 45-caliber pistol stolen from an apparently unlocked car.
  • Darrelle Groves, 37, was murdered with a Glock handgun left in a car's glove box.

"This is one of the most critical issues that we are facing in our state right now," said Beth Joslin Roth, executive director of the Safe Tennessee Project.

She said guns stolen from cars is a big driver of youth violence across the state.

"What we see is as these numbers of guns being stolen out of cars increases both in Memphis and here in Nashville we see a correlating rise in homicides and especially youth homicides," Roth added.

Related stories:

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Yorlets family describes heartbreak, mom's new cancer battle

Experts say a lot of the problems we're seeing on the streets began in Tennessee's pro-gun legislature back in 2014 when lawmakers made it legal for Tennesseans to keep loaded guns in their cars.

There is no penalty for leaving a gun unsecured.

"There's not necessarily a reason why they should be leaving them in their cars," said John Harris with the Tennessee Firearms Association, although he acknowledged, "Legally, they can, yes."

Harris said that he would prefer that gunowners use a locking device to keep their handguns secure when they are not in their vehicles.

But he doesn't want to punish those who don't.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Should it be a crime for someone to leave a handgun unsecured in a vehicle?"

"I don't think so," Harris answered. "I realize that it can result in a criminal getting access to it and doing something wrong."

"Killing someone," we noted.

"Killing someone," he agreed, "but you could steal the purse with money in it and go on the street and buy a gun. So how do you differentiate?"

John Harris Tennessee Firearms Association.jpg

Kyle Yorlet's mother responded, "I don't know how you could think that. It defies logic."

The Yorlets said they believe there's a chance Kyle would still be alive if the gunowners had not made it so easy.

John Harris responded, "If they didn't get it from a car that same person may have gotten it from another source, whether legal or illegal."

Beth Joslin Roth, with the Safe Tennessee Project, scoffed at Harris' logic.

"That's an argument that you only hear in relations to guns," Roth said.

"You don't ever hear anyone say underage kids are always going to figure out a way to get alcohol, so we should just lower the drinking age - or people are always going to drink and drive so maybe we shouldn't have DUI laws."

Kyle's father agreed.

"Yeah, there's a chance that they would get those, but you don't make it easier for them," Larry Yorlets said.

"You don't set it right out there so that they just walk down the street and grab them. They might be able to get them, but it's going to be more difficult for them to get it."

Last session, lawmakers failed to approve legislation to impose a fine on people who leave handguns unsecured in their cars.

Rep. Bruce Griffey, a Republican from Paris, Tennessee, worried about how the law would impact him. (Watch debate below.)

"Even though it's a fine only, I'm a lawyer. If I've got an A misdemeanor on my record, I'm going to have to go talk to the Tennessee Supreme Court and the bar,"

John Harris said that, in the Kyle Yorlets case, the gunowners were also victims from the theft of the weapons they left unsecured.

Lawmakers are reluctant to impose fines on gunowners leaving guns unsecured, Harris said, because "it ultimately comes down to you're victimizing a second time."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates told Harris, "Some people will hear you say that and say that's pretty callous."

"Well, it may be," Harris said, "but it's the world we live in. I mean, you know, Tennesseeans love their guns."

But the Yorlets say Tennesseans should also love their children.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Deb Yorlets what has been hardest for her.

"Just not having him to talk to, just that he's not here," she said, her voice cracking with emotion. "It's still unbelievable. After all this time, it's like it just happened."

Larry Yorlets said, "Those lobbyists, if this would have been their family instead of mine, their attitude would change very quickly."

"If this would have been their family, he added, "their comprehension of what the other side of it is would be considerably different."

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