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Teen vigilante accused of traveling to Kenosha to “hunt protestors” is charged with homicide

A white, 17-year-old who was reportedly obsessed with law enforcement and a loyal supporter of President Donald Trump was arrested on Wednesday, August 26, in the killing of two people during a third night of protests in Kenosha over the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake.

Kyle Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, about 15 miles from Kenosha, was taken into custody in Illinois on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide in the attack Tuesday that was largely captured on cellphone video. The shooting left a third person wounded.

“I just killed somebody,” the gunman could be heard saying at one point during the rampage, as he ran with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle. The chaos erupted just before midnight in the city of 100,000 people midway between Milwaukee and Chicago.

As the public scoured social media to identify the shooter after his escape, unconfirmed reports surfaced claiming that Rittenhouse had wanted to be in Kenosha so he could “hunt and shoot at protesters.” Before he was taken into custody, Rittenhouse sanitized his social media accounts of references to his Kenosha plans. Some photos and comments were screen captured before they were deleted. The Facebook account under Rittenhouse’s name, which can no longer be accessed, contained images of him posing with an assault-style rifle. Text surrounding the photo included the pro-police phrase “blue lives matter.”

In the wake of the killings, Governor Tony Evers authorized the deployment of 500 members of the National Guard to Kenosha on August 26, doubling the number of troops. The governor’s office said he is working with other states to bring in additional National Guard members and law officers. Authorities also announced a 7:00 p.m. curfew, an hour earlier than the night before. Even so, protesters were out Wednesday night after the curfew.

“A senseless tragedy like this cannot happen again,” Governor Evers said in a statement. “I again ask those who choose to exercise their First Amendment rights please do so peacefully and safely, as so many did last night. I also ask the individuals who are not there to exercise those rights to please stay home and let local first responders, law enforcement and members of the Wisconsin National Guard do their jobs.”

In Washington, the Justice Department said it is sending in more than 200 federal agents from the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in response to the unrest. The White House said up to 2,000 National Guard troops would be made available.

The dead were identified only as a 26-year-old Silver Lake, Wisconsin, resident and a 36-year-old from Kenosha. The wounded person, a 36-year-old from West Allis, Wisconsin, was expected to survive, police said.

“We were all chanting ‘Black lives matter’ at the gas station and then we heard, boom, boom, and I told my friend, ‘That’s not fireworks,’” said 19-year-old protester Devin Scott. “And then this guy with this huge gun runs by us in the middle of the street and people are yelling, ‘He shot someone! He shot someone!’ And everyone is trying to fight the guy, chasing him and then he started shooting again.”

Scott said he cradled a victim in his arms, and a woman started performing CPR, but “I don’t think he made it.”

According to witness accounts and video footage, police apparently let the gunman walk past them and leave the scene with a rifle over his shoulder and his hands in the air as members of the crowd were yelling for him to be arrested because he had shot people.

As for how the gunman managed to slip away, Sheriff David Beth described a chaotic, high-stress scene, with lots of radio traffic and people screaming, chanting and running — conditions he said can cause “tunnel vision” among law officers.

Rittenhouse was assigned a public defender in Illinois for a hearing Friday, August 28, on his transfer to Wisconsin. The public defender’s office had no comment. Under Wisconsin law, anyone 17 or older is treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.

Much of Rittenhouse’s Facebook page was devoted to praising law enforcement, with references to Blue Lives Matter, a movement that supports police. He also can be seen holding an assault rifle. Other photographs include those of badges of various law enforcement agencies, including the Chicago Police Department. All of the badges have a black line across them — something police officers typically do with black tape when an officer is killed in the line of duty.

In a photograph posted by his mother, he is wearing what appears to be a blue law enforcement uniform as well as the kind of brimmed hat that state troopers wear. The sheriff said that militia members or armed vigilantes had been patrolling Kenosha’s streets in recent nights, but he did not know if the gunman was among them. However, video taken before the shooting shows police tossing bottled water from an armored vehicle to what appear to be armed civilians walking the streets. And one of them appears to be the gunman.

“We appreciate you being here,” an officer is heard saying to the group over a loudspeaker.

Sam Dirks, 22, from Milwaukee, said he had seen the gunman earlier in the evening, and he was yelling at some of the protesters.

“He was definitely very agitated. He was pacing around, just pointing his gun in general. Not necessarily at anyone specifically,” Dirks said.

In Wisconsin, it is legal for people 18 and over to openly carry a gun, with no license required. Because Rittenhouse is only 17, it was illegal for him to be in public possession of the weapon. Police who spoke with him before the shooting did not enforce that law, which would have saved the lives of two people.

Witness accounts and video indicate the shootings took place in two stages: The gunman first shot someone at a car lot, then jogged away, fell in the street, and opened fire again as members of the crowd closed in on him.

A witness, Julio Rosas, 24, said that when the gunman stumbled, “two people jumped onto him and there was a struggle for control of his rifle. At that point during the struggle, he just began to fire multiple rounds, and that dispersed people near him.”

“The rifle was being jerked around in all directions while it was being fired,” Rosas said.

Blake, 29, was shot in the back seven times on Sunday as he leaned into his SUV, three of his children seated inside. Kenosha police have said little about what happened other than that they were responding to a domestic dispute.

On Wednesday, August 26, three days after the shooting, state authorities identified the officer who shot Blake as Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha Police Department. Sheskey shot Blake while holding onto his shirt after officers first unsuccessfully used a Taser, the Wisconsin Justice Department said. No charges were announced, and state officials continue to investigate.

On Tuesday, August 25, the lawyer for Blake’s family said it would “take a miracle” for Blake to walk again. Ben Crump called for the officer who opened fire to be arrested and for the others involved to lose their jobs.

The shooting was captured on cellphone video and ignited new protests in the U.S. three months after the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer touched off a nationwide reckoning over racial injustice.

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Brendan Gutenschwager

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