CHICAGO — Kyle Rittenhouse cried, vomited and worried about negative social media comments after turning himself into a far north suburban police department following the fatal shooting of two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last summer, according to newly released documents.
Rittenhouse, 17, and his mother appeared in the lobby of the Antioch police station around 1:20 a.m. Aug. 26, just hours after prosecutors say the teenager shot three men with an AR-15-style rifle, killing two of them. Police reports show Rittenhouse repeatedly acknowledged his role in the shooting during his conversations with officers, though he insisted he had been protecting himself.
"I shot two white kids," he told police, according to documents obtained late Friday under a Freedom of Information Act request that village officials initially denied.
The records offer the first detailed accounts of what transpired in the hours after the shootings in Kenosha, a lakeside town located about 10 miles from the Illinois border. Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, died from the injuries they sustained that night.
According to 17 pages of police reports, an emotional Rittenhouse told police he had been hired to protect a Kenosha business amid the unrest stemming from the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot multiple times in the back at close range days earlier. At some point during the night, Rittenhouse said, he tried stop an unnamed man from hitting windows and the man began to chase him.
The teen told officers that he had been hit in his lower neck and head with a baseball bat and a skateboard before firing his weapon, according to the police report. A filing by Kenosha prosecutors does not indicate that any of the victims were wielding a baseball bat when they were shot, though video taken that night does show Huber reaching for the rifle as a skateboard hits Rittenhouse's shoulder.
Antioch officers noted small scratches on the Rittenhouse's arms when he turned himself in, but he did not have any cuts or bruises, a police report states. Paramedics, however, were twice called to the police department to treat him.
"As I stayed with Kyle, I observed him exhibit several different emotions," Antioch officer Kourtney Nemec wrote in her report. "I observed Kyle to appear calm, then burst into crying fits, and then calm down again. Every once in a while, I observed Kyle to throw up. I noticed a pattern to his behavior for over an hour with him calming down, crying, calming down again and then throwing up."
The teen also had a tense exchange with his mother, Wendy, who was not convinced her son had killed anybody. Rittenhouse insisted he had "ended a man's life."
"He's dead," he said, according to a report by Sgt. Nicholas Garcia.
"Wendy then raised her voice and said 'we don't know that!'" the report states.
Video from the scene of the protests showed Rittenhouse apparently trying to surrender to police in Kenosha after the shootings, but they didn't arrest him. Rittenhouse told Antioch officers that when he tried to speak with officers there after the shootings, he was told to go home.
When he showed up at the suburban police station hours later, he was wearing the same jeans and tan-colored cowboy boots he had been wearing during the protests, according to the police reports.
While waiting for Kenosha detectives to arrive, Rittenhouse repeatedly asked to speak with his sisters and an 18-year-old friend who were back at the family's apartment. The friend, who the Tribune is not naming because he has not been charged, was with Rittenhouse in Wisconsin and still had his gun, according to police reports.
Nemec allowed the teen to make the phone call, which quickly turned into a discussion about social media reaction to the shooting.
"When they spoke the conversation turned into the family discussing the negative comments about Kyle on social media, which caused Kyle to become upset," Nemec wrote. "I requested Kyle to stop speaking with his sisters and (friend) as this was causing him to become upset and again made him cry. Kyle continued to talk about him being on social media and then briefly showed me from his phone a picture of him with the AR-rifle at the Kenosha riots from earlier in the evening."
Police confiscated Rittenhouse's assault weapon from the friend's trunk a short time later, along with another AR-15 rifle the friend said he carried that night in Kenosha, according to reports. The friend told police that he had not witnessed the shooting, but Rittenhouse called him immediately afterward, and he had driven the teen back across the Illinois state line.
The friend later was questioned by police at the Antioch police station, where he said he bought the weapon for Rittenhouse earlier this year so the two could hunt together, according to the reports. The friend told police he purchased the gun in his name at a hardware store in northern Wisconsin, but Rittenhouse paid for it.
The friend kept Rittenhouse's rifle at his stepfather's house in Kenosha and the two picked it up before heading to protests, according to the reports. The friend told police that he wished he would have stopped Rittenhouse from taking the gun that night, records show.
"(The friend) thought in his head he could have stopped it, but he knew if he would have told Kyle 'no,' he (Rittenhouse) would have thrown a fit," the police report said.
The reports indicate the friend also worried that he could be held responsible for the shootings.
"(The friend) stated after the shooting he spoke with Kyle and told Kyle that he (the friend) believed he (the friend) was going to be in more trouble than Kyle," the records said. "He told Kyle that he (Rittenhouse) was defending himself and said he told Kyle, 'In all reality, you are not supposed to have the gun. That gun was in my name.'"
Antioch police later interviewed the friend's stepfather, who begrudgingly had allowed the rifle to be stored at his house. He told police he did not approve of his stepson purchasing the gun for Rittenhouse, who was a minor, and so he kept it in a locked safe in his garage.
After Blake's shooting by police, the man said he moved the gun into his basement for his own "personal protection."
The man said he went to work Aug. 25 — the day of the Kenosha protest shootings — and his stepson called. His stepson said he and Rittenhouse had been hired by a downtown business to perform security, and he needed to borrow sandpaper for graffiti removal.
The friend's stepfather said he did not realize the rifle was missing from his home until Aug. 26, as he was preparing to leave town for a week due to the demonstrations, according to the police report.
Authorities have said Rittenhouse will not face gun charges in Illinois because the Smith & Wesson AR-15 .223 caliber rifle "was purchased, stored and used in Wisconsin" and they turned up no evidence the 17-year-old "physically possessed" the weapon here. Neither Rittenhouse nor his mother possesses the Firearm Owner Identification cards required to keep a gun in Illinois, according to the police reports.
Rittenhouse's case has become a cause celebre for gun rights advocates and militia groups throughout the country since his arrest in late August. In laying the groundwork for a self-defense argument, the teen's attorneys have painted him as a young patriot who wanted to protect the community and the victim of political conspiracy.
In court records filed before his extradition hearing Friday, Rittenhouse's attorney indicated that his mother could testify about the circumstances surrounding his arrest in their bid to keep the teenager from being sent to Wisconsin to face murder charges. However, she never took the stand and, after dry legal arguments, a Lake County judge ordered he be extradited.
A high school dropout with a deep interest in law-enforcement, Rittenhouse lives with his mother and sisters in a modest Antioch apartment complex located about 20 minutes from Kenosha. His attorneys say he went to Kenosha after his lifeguarding shift Aug. 25 to help remove graffiti drawn during the ongoing unrest and later responded to a local business owner's request for help protecting his establishment.
Armed with an assault rifle, Rittenhouse walked up and down the downtown streets with little pushback from local police. At one point, officers in an armored vehicle tossed bottles of water to Rittenhouse and other armed civilians. Though the people were clearly violating the city's 8 p.m. curfew and Rittenhouse was too young to openly carry a firearm in Wisconsin, the officer expressed his gratitude for the group.
"We appreciate you guys," the officer said. "We really do."
In an interview with the Daily Caller that night, Rittenhouse refers to his presence as his "job" and explains his self-appointed responsibilities in policelike vernacular.
"People are getting injured and our job is to protect this business," Rittenhouse says in the 19-second clip. "And part of my job also is to protect people. If someone is hurt, I'm running into harm's way. That's why I have my rifle; I've gotta protect myself obviously."
With his mother present in the interview room, Kenosha detectives questioned Rittenhouse in Antioch for roughly four hours, stopping once for a coffee break and a second time because the teen had trouble breathing, according to police reports.
Antioch police took him into custody around 8 a.m. on a fugitive warrant and took him to a juvenile detention center in Lake County. He remained there until his extradition back to Wisconsin Friday afternoon.
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com(c)2020 Chicago Tribune, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.