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Teen accused of killing 2 in Wisconsin is thrust into debate over protests

Kasey Morgan, a public information officer for the Lake County Court, walks away from reporters outside the Lake County courthouse following the extradition hearing for Kyle Rittenhouse Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, in Waukegan, Ill. A judge agreed Friday to delay for a month a decision on whether the 17-year-old from Illinois should be returned to Wisconsin to face charges accusing him of fatally shooting two protesters and wounding a third during a night of unrest following the weekend police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

ANTIOCH, Ill. (AP) — A white 17-year-old who says he went to protests
in Wisconsin to protect businesses and people has become a flashpoint
in a debate over anti-racism demonstrations that have gripped many
American cities and the vigilantism that has sometimes met them.

Tuesday, Kyle Rittenhouse grabbed an AR-15 style rifle and joined
several other armed people in the streets of Kenosha, where businesses
had been vandalized and buildings burned following a police shooting
that left Jacob Blake, a Black man, paralyzed. By the end of the night,
prosecutors say, Rittenhouse had killed two people and severely wounded a

At a hearing Friday, a judge postponed a decision on
whether Rittenhouse, who is in custody in Illinois, should be returned
to Wisconsin to face charges, including first-degree intentional
homicide that could land him in prison for the rest of his life.

some, Rittenhouse is a domestic terrorist whose very presence with a
rifle incited the protesters. But to others — who have become frustrated
with demonstrations and unrest across the country — he’s seen as a hero
who took up arms to protect people who were left unprotected.

is an innocent boy who justifiably exercised his fundamental right of
self-defense. In doing so, he likely saved his own life and possibly the
lives of others,” said Lin Wood, a prominent Atlanta attorney who is
now part of a team representing Rittenhouse.

The protests in
Kenosha are just the latest to erupt during a reckoning over policing
and racial injustice following the death of George Floyd at the hands of
Minneapolis police. As they have in other cities, rallies devolved into
violence and vandalism at some points, and the National Guard was
called in. The commander of the force said Friday over 1,000 guard
members had been deployed, and more were on the way.

once part of a youth cadet program for aspiring police officers, can be
seen on his Facebook page posing in a blue police uniform with a silver
badge and broad-brimmed hat. In other online photos and videos, he takes
target practice and brandishes a rifle above the caption, “Blue Lives

On Tuesday night, as Rittenhouse stood in front of a
boarded-up building, he spoke to a reporter from the Daily Caller news

“People are getting injured and our job is to protect this
business,” Rittenhouse said. “And part of my job is to also help people.
If there is somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I
have my rifle.”

Rittenhouse and a friend armed themselves on
Tuesday and made their way to a mechanic shop whose owner had put out a
call for protection, according to a statement from John Pierce, an
attorney representing Rittenhouse. In the attorney’s description of
events, Rittenhouse had tried to offer medical help to injured people
before he was “accosted by multiple rioters,” leading him to open fire.

hashtag #FreeKyleRittenhouse has trended on Twitter, a self-described
Christian fundraising site, GiveSendGo, says it has raised more than
$100,000 for Rittenhouse’s defense, and a post including photos of
Rittenhouse cleaning up graffiti in Kenosha before the shooting was
shared and liked thousands of times.

The night of the shootings,
Rittenhouse is seen on video as a green-shirted figure running across a
parking lot with a rifle followed by a man later identified as Joseph
Rosenbaum, 36, according to a criminal complaint. Rosenbaum throws a
plastic bag at Rittenhouse, misses, then five shots ring out, and
Rosenbaum falls to the ground. He later was declared dead.

“I just
killed somebody,” Rittenhouse says into his cellphone, according to the
complaint, and he starts running and several people give chase. “Beat
him up!” one person in the crowd says. Another yells, “Get him! Get that

Rittenhouse trips and falls. One man holding a skateboard
appears to try to grab the gun from Rittenhouse. A shot rings out, and
the man, Anthony Huber, 26, staggers away. He also died.

In the
scuffle, lasting just seconds, Rittenhouse shoots a third person armed
with a handgun, according to the complaint. That man, Gaige Grosskreutz,
26, has a deep wound to his arm but has survived.

After the
shootings, Rittenhouse can be seen walking toward police with his gun
slung over his shoulder and his hands in the air. Police riding in
tactical vehicles roll right past him. He later turned himself in in his
hometown of Antioch, Illinois, according to Kenosha Police Chief Daniel

The police have faced questions about that response.

Friday, Miskinis described a chaotic scene to reporters and said that
“there was nothing to suggest that this person (Rittenhouse) was
involved in any criminal behavior.”

Miskinis said it was not a
lapse in judgment to not stop Rittenhouse and ask for identification to
see if he was old enough to carry a weapon, given the number of people
on the street, many wearing masks that obscured their faces.

allows gun owners to openly carry in public, but a person under 18
can’t legally possess or carry a firearm unless that person is hunting
or target practicing with an adult or in the military.

Before the
shooting, some officers were seen on video thanking the group
Rittenhouse was with for their help and tossing them bottles of water.

County Sheriff David Beth told reporters Friday those officers were not
his deputies. He added that he was not asking armed citizens to help
law enforcement respond to unrest.

Before the shooting,
Rittenhouse lived in a quiet apartment complex a half-hour’s drive away
from Kenosha, with his single mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, a 45-year-old
nursing assistant who filed for bankruptcy two years ago.

Quillin, who lived in an apartment building next door, did not know the
Rittenhouses but said area residents were on edge over the teen’s arrest
and their fears that the demonstrations could come to their doorsteps.

“I want to know how a 17-year-old could get ahold of an AR-15,” she added.

mother did not return calls Thursday, and the nursing home listed in
court papers as her employer, Libertyville Manor, would not confirm she
still worked there.

Rittenhouse dropped out of high school during
the 2017-18 school year, according to a statement from a school
district official sent to The Washington Post. A year earlier, court
records show, his mother had asked for an order of protection from
police for Rittenhouse and his now 19-year-old sister, McKenzie, saying
that a 13-year-old bully was calling her son “dumb” and “stupid” and
threatening him. She eventually dropped the matter.

On his social
media posts, Rittenhouse appeared to be an enthusiastic participant in
the Public Safety Cadet program run by local police departments that
trains 14- to 21-year-olds in the basics of law enforcement. Beyond
confirming he was involved, the Grayslake Police Department would not
comment further.

On his 16th birthday, he appealed to Facebook
friends to help him celebrate by donating to a nonprofit supporting
police called Humanizing the Badge.

Rittenhouse also did a stint
as a part-time lifeguard at the YMCA in Lindenhurst, Illinois, according
to Man-Yan Lee, a representative for the organization’s metro Chicago
branch. He was furloughed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

videos on his TikTok account, which has just 25 followers, he is seen
assembling and disassembling a rifle and what appears to be a shotgun.

“Bruh, I’m just tryna be famous,” he says on his TikTok bio page.

Condon reported from New York. Associated Press writers Scott Bauer and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin; Jake Bleiberg in Dallas; Don Babwin and Sophia Tareen in Chicago; Tammy Webber in Fenton, Michigan; and David Klepper in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed, as did news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York.