A teenager identified as Kyle Rittenhouse was arrested and charged with homicide on Wednesday after gunfire killed two people and wounded a third during protests over the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, court officials said.
The lakeside city has been rocked by civil unrest since Sunday, when police shot Jacob Blake, 29, in the back at close range. That incident, captured on video, has reignited protests over racism and police use of force in the United States, and prompted NBA team the Milwaukee Bucks to boycott a playoff game.
Police equipment from across the state as well as National Guard troops, the FBI, and other federal law enforcement officers have been sent to Kenosha, police officials said. They also announced a 7pm (23:00 GMT) curfew beginning on Wednesday, an hour earlier than the night before.
Rittenhouse, 17, was arrested on a warrant in Illinois and charged with first-degree intentional homicide in Kenosha, a Lake County court official said.
Julia Jackson, the mother of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot several times in the back by a police officer, speaks during a news conference outside the Kenosha County Courthouse [Stephen Maturen/Reuters]
Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis confirmed a 17-year old from Antioch, Illinois was in custody in another state and efforts were being made to bring him back to Wisconsin.
“What I can’t tell you is what led to that disturbance, what led to use of deadly force,” Miskinis said.
Miskinis said the events surrounding Blake’s shooting were being investigated by the criminal division of the Wisconsin Department of Justice “to give it the outside view” and that he had no knowledge of the investigation as mandated by Wisconsin law and procedure.
Two people were killed on Tuesday night in an attack carried out by a young white man, alleged to be Rittenhouse, who was caught on a mobile phone video opening fire in the middle of the street with a semi-automatic rifle.
“I just killed somebody,” the person could be heard saying at one point during the shooting rampage that erupted just before midnight.
One victim was shot in the head and the other in the chest, Sheriff David Beth told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A third person suffered gunshot wounds not believed to be life-threatening.
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, Kenosha police said.
A protester takes cover during clashes outside the Kenosha County Courthouse late on Tuesday in protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake two days earlier [David Goldman/ AP]
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.
“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’,” 19-year-old protester Devin Scott told the Chicago Tribune.
“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.”
As for how the gunman managed to leave the scene, Beth portrayed a chaotic, high-stress scene, with screaming, chanting, nonstop radio traffic and people running all over — conditions he said can cause “tunnel vision” among law officers.
A video posted by The Daily Caller, a right-wing news and opinion site, appears to show Rittenhouse answering questions during an interview on Tuesday night.
When asked what he was doing, Rittenhouse replies: “So people are getting injured and our job is to protect this business, 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 because I need to protect myself, obviously. I also have my med kit.”
Rittenhouse also appears to be a supporter of law enforcement, The Daily Beast reported. The website referenced a 2018 post by Rittenhouse which asks people to donate to a group called Humanizing the Badge (HTB).
National Guard deployed
The post reads: “I’ve chosen this nonprofit because their mission means a lot to me, and I hope you’ll consider contributing as a way to celebrate with me”, The Daily Beast said. “HTB is a non-profit organisation seeking to forge stronger relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. We’re doing this through community service projects, mental health support, social media content and strong partnerships with others blazing new paths.”
US National Guard deployed in Kenosha after police shoot Black man
Following the killings, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers authorised 500 members of the National Guard to support local law enforcement around Kenosha, doubling the number of troops sent in.
The governor’s office said he was working with other states to bring in additional National Guard troops and law officers.
The White House said that it had helped Wisconsin with the deployment of the National Guard.
“President Trump condemns violence in all forms and believes we must protect all Americans from chaos and lawlessness,” White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany, said in a statement. “We have assisted Wisconsin in the deployment of almost 1,000 National Guard and over 200 federal law enforcement personnel, which include the FBI and US Marshals.”
The unrest has also spilled over into sport.
The National Baskeball Association team the Milwaukee Buck did not appear on the court on Wednesday, prompting the NBA to “postpone” the rest of the playoff games for the day, saying in a tweet that they would be “rescheduled”.
Tennis player Naomi Osaka also announced she was pulling out of the semi-finals of the Southern and Western Open, which is being played in New York, because of racial injustice.