A 17-year-old is accused of shooting three people, killing two, during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after crossing a state border with a semi-automatic rifle and joining up with a group of vigilantes seeking to “protect” public property.
Kyle Rittenhouse was reportedly arrested in his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, and charged with first-degree murder on Wednesday. He allegedly fled Kenosha after he was caught on video shooting people after scuffles broke out during the protests.
Protesters clashed with police outside the Kenosha County Courthouse after a local white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, multiple times in the back with his children nearby over the weekend.
The third night of demonstrations appeared to turn deadly when heavily armed white vigilantes entered into the mix.
On Wednesday, Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis blamed the deaths on protesters for being out after curfew.
“Persons who were out after curfew became engaged in some type of disturbance, and persons were shot. Everybody involved was out after the curfew,” he said at a press conference. “Had persons not been in violation of that, perhaps the situation would not have happened.”
Police are investigating a group of men with guns who were lined up outside businesses a few blocks down the road from the courthouse, according to The New York Times. Ostensibly, the vigilantes were there to “protect” businesses from fires that had been set during previous nights of demonstrations. Though Rittenhouse’s connection to vigilante groups is unclear, he was quoted before the shooting saying that he considers himself a militiaman and was willing to use his rifle to “protect” people and property.
A now-deleted Facebook page that appears to belong to Rittenhouse featured almost exclusively pro-police imagery and photos of the suspect carrying guns. At some point, he changed his profile image to a “Blue Lives Matter” sign and held a fundraiser for a police nonprofit called “Humanizing The Badge.”
Militia members may have been drawn to the city through a Facebook post by a group calling itself the Kenosha Guard, which encouraged “patriots” to “take up arms and defend our city tonight from the evil thugs,” The Verge reported. It was unclear whether the suspect belonged to any militia groups.
In one video circulating social media, a person with a long gun is jogging down a main road when he appears to trip, firing off shots at protesters around him before getting up and trotting toward police vehicles (in the video, embedded below, one person falls to the ground after approaching the shooter and does not get up).
It was not immediately clear how many people were involved in the gunfire late Tuesday and early Wednesday, including whether more than one person fired rounds.
Law enforcement said officers responded to reports of shots fired at 11:45 p.m. and have not yet released the identities of those killed or injured.
One of the deceased was shot in the head and the other was shot in the chest, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The third gunshot victim is being treated for serious yet non-life-threatening injuries at a nearby hospital.
Earlier Tuesday night, protesters set off fireworks and threw bottles against a newly constructed fence encircling the county courthouse. By 10 p.m., police were pushing for people to disperse and head home, firing off tear gas, the Chicago SunTimes reported. Some of the demonstrators then walked in the direction of the armed vigilantes.
President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he was mobilizing federal authorities and National Guard troops to Kenosha in response to “lawlessness” and violence there.
Video of Blake’s shooting was released Sunday night and immediately recalled the excessive force used by white police officers against George Floyd, a Black man who died after being pinned to the ground by his neck for several minutes. Protests over Floyd’s death took off nationwide and lasted weeks; in some places they have yet to stop.
An attorney for Blake’s family said the 29-year-old was trying to de-escalate a domestic violence situation when he walked away from police and opened the driver’s side door of an SUV, in which his three children ― ages 3, 5 and 8 ― were waiting. In the video, one officer appears to then shoot Blake seven times in his back.
“They shot my son seven times,” Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., said Tuesday. “Seven times like he didn’t matter, but my son matters. He’s a human being and he matters.”
Benjamin Crump, co-counsel to the family, said it would “take a miracle” for Blake to walk again. Doctors say he is paralyzed from the waist down, having suffered injuries to one arm, his kidneys, liver and spinal cord.
The officers involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.