fb-pixel Skip to main content

Suspect charged with homicide after two people shot to death in Kenosha, Wisc., protests

Protesters take cover from tear gas fired by police outside the Kenosha County Courthouse, late Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis.
Protesters take cover from tear gas fired by police outside the Kenosha County Courthouse, late Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis.David Goldman/Associated Press

KENOSHA, Wis. — Authorities on Wednesday said a 17-year-old had been charged with homicide after two people were killed and another seriously wounded by gunfire amid a chaotic night of demonstrations and destruction in Kenosha unleashed by the weekend police shooting of Jacob Blake Jr.

Police in Antioch, Ill., about 20 miles southwest of Kenosha, said they had arrested Kyle Rittenhouse in the killings. They said Rittenhouse, an Antioch resident, was charged with first-degree intentional homicide in Wisconsin, but they did not specify whether he was being charged in one fatal shooting or both.

The shooting came as self-declared militia members and armed counterprotesters have appeared in the city, which is reeling from days of unrest. Some declared that they intended to fill the vacuum left by a law enforcement response that officials acknowledged on Wednesday had fallen short.

Advertisement



Authorities have not said whether Rittenhouse is a member of any of the groups. He had been a member of a cadet program for local police and fire departments, according to department newsletters and websites.

This lakeside Wisconsin city became the latest locus of anger over police brutality after Blake, a father of five, was shot by police on Sunday, a recorded incident that quickly went viral and prompted a nationwide outcry.

The shooting left Blake paralyzed from the waist down, and it has become a flash point in the presidential election. On Wednesday, it also touched the world of professional sports, with the Milwaukee Bucks - normally playing basketball less than an hour from Kenosha - declining to take the court for a scheduled playoff game in protest of police violence.

The streets of Kenosha have been filled with peaceful mass demonstrations in recent days, but also damaging riots by night in which businesses have been looted and burned. Armed civilians - many wielding AR-15-style rifles - had taken up position guarding stores, including the gas station where Tuesday night's shooting began with a confrontation just before midnight.

Advertisement



A complaint filed in Lake County, Ill., by the Antioch police described Rittenhouse as a fugitive, saying that he had been charged with homicide in Wisconsin and fled "with the intent to avoid prosecution for that offense." According to minutes from a hearing on Wednesday, he was held without bond and a hearing on Friday will address his potential extradition to Wisconsin.

Kenosha District Attorney Michael Graveley said Wednesday evening that decisions about charging Rittenhouse would be finalized on Thursday.

Authorities did not release the names of the shooting victims, but Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, expressed his condolences.

"My heart breaks for the families and loved ones of the two individuals who lost their lives and the individual who was injured last night in Kenosha," Evers said in a statement. "We as a state are mourning this tragedy."

News of the arrest came as Kenosha was bracing for a potential fourth night of violence and unrest on Wednesday. Authorities pledged a more robust law enforcement response, with local officials conceding that they had been overwhelmed after this modest city of 100,000 became the latest focal point of a national uprising against systemic racism in law enforcement.

"In Kenosha we're not accustomed to riots," said Sheriff David Beth, who took responsibility for a delay in requesting National Guard assistance that led to confusion over who was protecting which sites on Monday.

Advertisement



Self-declared militia members had arrived in town before the gunfire, though Beth said he did not know for sure whether Rittenhouse was part of such a group.

The sheriff said he had been approached by members of a militia to deputize citizens with guns to patrol Kenosha, and he pointed to what happened on Tuesday as "probably the perfect reason why I wouldn't" do so.

The police shooting of Blake has drawn dramatically different responses from across the American political divide. Three days after the incident, President Trump still had not addressed the shooting directly, though his surrogates at this week's Republican National Convention have repeatedly expressed their support for police officers while trying to link their Democratic rivals to destruction and mayhem.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, meanwhile, has condemned the rioting while signaling solidarity with the demands of protesters for an end to systemic racism in law enforcement.

On Wednesday, Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, spoke by phone with members of Blake's family, who have called for calm even as Blake remains hospitalized with injuries to his spine and internal organs.

"All [Biden] did was offer his support," said Jacob Blake Sr., the 29-year-old's father, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "He was 100 percent real."

Authorities have released little information about the Blake shooting, which was captured on video and is being investigated by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

That pattern continued Wednesday even as local law enforcement faced the news media for the first time since the incident.

Advertisement



Daniel Miskinis, the Kenosha police chief, said three officers who were at the scene had been placed on leave during the investigation, but he declined further comment, saying it would be "unfair to everybody involved" to speak about an active investigation.

Miskinis also offered little new information about the gunfire on Tuesday night. But he appeared to hold those who were shot Tuesday at least partly responsible, noting they were among those who were out in public despite citywide orders to stay in.

"Everybody involved was out after the curfew," he said. "The curfew's in place to protect. Had persons involved not been in violation of that, perhaps the situation that unfolded would not have happened."

Evers said Wednesday that he is increasing the Wisconsin National Guard contingent in Kenosha to 500 members. Trump posted on Twitter that he would "be sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha," though there were no specifics.

Cellphone video from before Tuesday night's shooting showed police officers thanking armed civilians for being on the streets after curfew and handing them bottles of water.

Immediately after the shooting, video showed a gunman appearing to attempt to surrender - his hands up - but police failing to take him into custody.

Kenosha authorities acknowledged that they had been overwhelmed by the unrest, and they have struggled to communicate a clear message.

"I'm not good at this," Mayor John Antaramian said. "This isn't what I'm used to."

Advertisement



Antaramian said authorities are learning from their mistakes and asked civilians not to take it upon themselves to police the streets.

"I don't need more guns on the streets in this city when we are trying to keep people safe," he said.

The shooting began at the gas station around 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, police said. After the first shots, a young White man carrying a rifle began running north on Sheridan Road, away from a crowd of protesters.

A Washington Post journalist who observed the scene saw the man with the rifle run by with several protesters in pursuit. He rolled into a sitting position, raised his gun and opened fire at his pursuers.

Two people fell to the ground, one shot in the arm and the other in the chest.

"He definitely was not breathing," said Carol Badoni, 50, who attempted to perform CPR on one of the wounded men. "His eyes were rolled back in his head. There was no pulse."

Kenosha police did not immediately identify any of the shooting victims.

The confrontation near the gas station late Tuesday unfolded after police dispersed protesters outside the Kenosha County Courthouse, where demonstrators had been lobbing fireworks at the building and the officers trying to protect it.

Police set off tear gas and drove protesters in the direction of the gas station, where they were met by the armed men - members of what police described as vigilante militia groups.

One of the armed men near the gas station told The Post he was there to stop people from breaking into local businesses, noting that he had seen comments online about pipe bombs being used.

"If the cops aren't going to stop them from throwing pipe bombs on innocent civilians, somebody has to," said a man who declined to give his name. (There is no indication that pipe bombs were part of Tuesday's protest.)

Other cities also saw demonstrations Tuesday night with some damage, though none reaching the levels seen in Kenosha.

Police in Madison, the Wisconsin capital, reported that they had arrested four people after a march near the Capitol gave way to property damage and some fires.

In Portland, Ore., police said a group damaged windows and entered city hall and lit a fire nearby. There were 23 arrests, police said. Police said they arrested 23 people in Portland and booked them on charges including disorderly conduct, interfering with a peace officer and resisting arrest.

From the start of Tuesday's protests, armed civilians were a prominent presence in Kenosha. The had handguns, rifles, knives and military flak jackets.

"Ain't nothing being done. We're the only ones," said Joe, 29, who described himself as a Marine Corps veteran and declined to give his last name. "Three thousand of us are armed and ready."

Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., said the situation in Kenosha "went from bad to worse" overnight Tuesday and called the National Guard deployment at that point "woefully insufficient."

On Wednesday, evidence of Tuesday night's violence could be found in bloodstains on the asphalt where one of the shootings occurred. Nearly every car in a nearby lot had its windows smashed, and at least one had been torched.

"I honestly feel like it's going to get worse - the shootings, the violence, the riots," said Kilian Kray, 31, who lives nearby. "The cops shouldn't be the judge, juror and executioner."

- - -

Berman, Peiser and Witte reported from Washington. The Washington Post’s Whitney Leaming and Erin Chan Ding in Kenosha contributed to this report.