Before he took his rifle to confront the unrest in Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday, allegedly killing two people and injuring another, Kyle Rittenhouse seemingly idolized one thing: the police.
Growing up in Chicago’s far northern suburbs, the 17-year-old shadowed local law enforcement as a cadet and filled his social media feeds with posts declaring that “Blue Lives Matter.” There were videos from the front row of a Trump rally, and photos of himself posing with guns.
Much else is still unknown about Rittenhouse, who was charged Wednesday with first-degree intentional homicide. But brief accounts from neighbors and local institutions paint the picture of a high school dropout who viewed law enforcement officers as his personal heroes.
So much so that, when massive protests, looting and fires broke out in Kenosha following the police shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday, he crossed state lines to offer his support to local policemen – at times, speaking as if their duties were his, too.
“People are getting injured, and our job is to protect this business,” he told the Daily Caller on Tuesday night, hours before he would allegedly start shooting.
The following day, those officers he so lionized arrested him at his home in Antioch, Ill.
I interviewed the alleged shooter before the violence started.
Full video coming soon: pic.twitter.com/G3dVOJozN7
— Richie🎥McG🍿 (@RichieMcGinniss) August 26, 2020
As of late Wednesday night, the 17-year-old suspect was being held without bond in Lake County, Ill. Although self-declared militia members and armed counterprotesters have descended this week in Kenosha, authorities have not said whether Rittenhouse is a member of any of those groups.
Before the deadly shooting, Rittenhouse lived with his mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, a single mom and nurse’s assistant, in a quiet apartment complex beside a park in Antioch, a bedroom community that sits just south of the Wisconsin border.
According to court records reviewed by the Chicago Tribune, Wendy Rittenhouse sought an order of protection from police in January 2017, claiming that a classmate of her son’s had been threatening him and calling him “dumb” and “stupid.” The Washington Post was unable to immediately reach her for comment.
Jim McKay, the superintendent for the school district that includes Antioch, said in a statement to The Post that Rittenhouse attended Lakes Community High School for a semester in the 2017-18 school year and did not re-enroll in either local high school afterward. Two unnamed neighbors told the Chicago Sun-Times that he had dropped out of Lakes.
Outside school, Rittenhouse participated in cadet programs with both the Antioch Fire Department and the Grayslake Police Department, according to department newsletters. The police initiative offers participants from ages 14 to 21 “the opportunity to explore a career in law enforcement” through ride-alongs with officers on patrol and firearms training, according to since-deleted pages on its website.
Philip L. Perlini, the Grayslake police chief, declined to comment to The Post but said his agency was cooperating with an investigation by the FBI and Kenosha police.
More recently, Rittenhouse worked as a part-time lifeguard at a YMCA in Lindenhurst, Ill., the Tribune reported. Man-Yan Lee, a representative for the organization’s metro Chicago branch, said in a statement to The Post that Rittenhouse was furloughed in March.
A few weeks earlier, he attended a Trump rally in Des Moines, sitting in the front row and posting a TikTok video from the Jan. 30 event, BuzzFeed News reported. The video, which has since been deleted, appeared to match C-SPAN footage of Rittenhouse standing just to the left of the lectern, according to the news site.
The Trump campaign distanced itself from Rittenhouse and his video late on Wednesday, with spokesman Tim Murtaugh telling The Post that the president had “repeatedly and consistently condemned all forms of violence.”
“This individual had nothing to do with our campaign,” Murtaugh said, “and we fully support our fantastic law enforcement for their swift action in this case.”
Besides the Trump rally, the public posts on Rittenhouse’s Facebook are almost entirely dedicated to honoring police, with Blue Lives Matter graphics, photos of officers killed in the line of duty, and the “thin blue line” flag associated with support for law enforcement.
In December 2018, he started a Facebook fundraiser for Humanizing the Badge, a nonprofit that Rittenhouse said looks to “forge stronger relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.”
His TikTok account, meanwhile, showed him in recent weeks assembling or firing two different types of guns, BuzzFeed News reported: an AR-15-style rifle as well as a firearm he identified as a 12-gauge shotgun.
On Tuesday, as Kenosha erupted into demonstrations following the police shooting of Blake, Rittenhouse appeared to bring the same rifle with him to the scene. The 17-year-old drove about 20 miles from Antioch to Kenosha, also toting a medical kit, to partake in what referred to as his “job.”
“Part of my job also is to protect people,” Rittenhouse told the Daily Caller moments before he allegedly began shooting. “If someone is hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have my rifle. I’ve got to protect myself, obviously.”
Rittenhouse and the other armed civilians shown in videos with him were violating Kenosha’s 8 p.m. curfew, and at 17, he is too young to openly carry a gun in Wisconsin, the Tribune reported. But police did not challenge him on either front.
One live stream from the scene appears to show police in an armored vehicle throwing bottles of water to him and others in his group, telling them: “We appreciate you guys. We really do.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Antioch police stationed vehicles inside the apartment complex where Rittenhouse has a listed home address, allowing only residents to enter the buildings and walk through the parking lot.
Tammy Blanton, 34, who lives a four-minute walk away, said the arrest at the complex stunned her, particularly because Rittenhouse is about the same age as two of her children.
“I was really surprised because I never see any cops around, I never hear any bad news, it’s a very quiet town,” she said. “We go to the park right here, down the street, and knowing there’s someone like that in the neighborhood – I still want to know the full story of what happened – but it’s pretty scary.”
Local government officials in Antioch issued a curfew on Tuesday night, citing the potential for civil unrest. Residents were asked to stay home, businesses shuttered, and both local high schools were entirely closed into Wednesday, the district said on its website.
Standing with her son on the sidewalk across from Rittenhouse’s apartment complex, Blanton said Rittenhouse seemed to have crossed a line.
“Maybe he thought he was doing the right thing, but you don’t kill somebody,” she said. “That’s not your business to kill someone for messing with someone else’s business. That’s for the cops to deal with.”
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The Washington Post’s Erin Chan Ding in Antioch, Ill., and Tim Craig and Jennifer Jenkins in Washington contributed to this report.
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