Warning: Graphic descriptions and video.
A 17-year-old aspiring cop has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder for his alleged role in a shooting during a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday night that left two dead and one injured.
The suspect was identified as Kyle Rittenhouse, of Lake County, Illinois. Prosecutors in Lake County filed the charges at noon Wednesday, and labelled him a fugitive who “fled the state of Wisconsin with intent to avoid prosecution for that offense.”
Tuesday was the third consecutive night of angry protests in Kenosha since police shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, leaving him paralyzed.
Rittenhouse, clad in a green t-shirt, a cap emblazoned with an American flag, and carrying an assault rifle, was seen on video at various points of the night. In several graphic videos, he’s seen opening fire on protesters; one was shot in the head, another in the chest. The victim who survived was shot in the arm.
While it’s not immediately clear why Rittenhouse, a former police cadet, was at the protest, his social media indicates an affiliation with “Back the Blue,” a pro-police movement. In recent months, pro-cop vigilantes have been showing up heavily armed at protests across the country to defend public property, often warmly received by local law enforcement.
Police interacted with the alleged gunman at various locations in Kenosha throughout the night. In one video, Rittenhouse is seen chatting with police who gave him a bottle of water and thanked him for being there.
He was also seen in the vicinity of a group of armed militiamen, who had tasked themselves with protecting a gas station from damage. Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth acknowledged their presence in an interview with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but said he wasn’t sure if the suspected shooter was affiliated with them.
The shooting started around 11.30 p.m., hours after the curfew, when a heated confrontation broke out between protesters and the militia men near the gas station. Around that same time, gunshots rang out by an automate submission distribution-body shop, a few blocks away.
Video shows a group of people running down the street, including the man in the green t-shirt who appears to be being chased. He and his pursuer briefly disappear behind parked cars and then gunshots are heard. “He’s got a gun, he shot him,” the person recording the video is heard saying. Other videos from the scene suggest that there may have been additional gunfire from another direction.
Video shows protesters surrounding the victim, who is lying on the ground between two cars. Multiple people are using their phones as flashlights, trying to figure out where he’s been shot. “In his head, in his head — put pressure on it — put pressure, come on,” one woman says, while holding his head near a bullet wound and telling him “keep your eyes open.”
Video from another angle shows the man in the green t-shirt standing there, on the phone. “I’ve just killed somebody,” he says into his phone, as he starts to move away.
Soon after, another video shows a crowd chasing the suspect down the street. “What did he do?” someone asks. “He shot someone!” someone else replies. The man appears to trip and fall. Two protesters run towards him, he sits up and shoots them both. One person lies motionless in the street. “Medic!” someone in the crowd cries out.
That victim survived and was seen later being treated for a bullet wound in his arm.
The apparent shooter, meanwhile, was seen on video walking away from the scene — his AR-style rifle clearly visible, his hands above his head. But Kenosha police who were responding to the reports of gunfire showed no interest in arresting or even questioning the man.
Instead, they asked him for directions. “Is someone injured, straight ahead?” an officer asks him via loudspeaker.
“Get out of the road,” said another.
He even approached an idling police car, going up close to the window, but then appeared to change his mind and walked away.
Brent Ford, 24, a photographer, witnessed the entire scene. “He had his hands up and they told him to get out of there, even though everyone was yelling that he was the shooter,” Ford told VICE News. “The police didn’t seem to hear or care what the crowd was saying.”
Ford said many in the crowd were armed — not just the militiamen who were standing guard outside a nearby gas station. For example, members of the Socialist Rifle Association, an armed leftist gun group, were present. Other protesters had pistols in holsters. “I had kinda gotten the feeling the police were overwhelmed and didn’t really know what they were doing most of the night,” said Ford.
Ford had also observed that the militiamen seen earlier appeared to be getting special treatment from the police. “One of the police in the Bearcat was yelling over the LRAD [a speaker system] for everyone, press and protesters to disperse,” said Ford. “I noticed that group of armed, I guess militia or citizens, at the gas station behind the police lines weren’t getting told to leave the area, and it kind of struck me as weird.”
The shooter has meanwhile been hailed as a “hero” by the far-right. “That boy is a patriot,” one person wrote on the imageboard 4chan. “Well he became a man today, that’s for sure,” another commented.
Cover: Armed civilians stand in the streets of Kenosha during third day of protests over the shooting of a black man Jacob Blake by police officer in Wisconsin, United States on August 25, 2020. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)