In a summer roiled by protests for racial justice, Kenosha, Wis., moved into the national spotlight in August after a White police officer shot a Black man named Jacob Blake seven times in the back.
Peaceful protests during the day were followed by rioting and civil unrest at night. Just before midnight on Aug. 25, tensions peaked when a 17-year-old named Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum. Moments later, Rittenhouse shot two other men, one fatally.
Rittenhouse was arrested and charged with multiple counts of homicide and weapons offenses, but right-wing groups have rallied to his cause, celebrating him as a hero who sought to protect Kenosha from destructive rioting and who fired in self-defense. The events have become a litmus test for a deeply divided nation.
A Washington Post examination of video and police records, along with other documents, sheds new light on the mindsets of the two people principally involved — one a gun enthusiast who thought of himself as a medic, the other a homeless man with a criminal record who was discharged that day from a psychiatric hospital.
The Post found that Rittenhouse, who was too young to buy a rifle, had arranged for an adult friend to buy the weapon for him using money Rittenhouse had received from a government stimulus program.
The Post interviewed Rittenhouse, who spoke publicly for the first time since his arrest. He said he did not regret that he had a gun that night. “I feel I had to protect myself,” he said. “I would have died that night if I didn’t.”
One of Rittenhouse’s sisters told The Post that he supported peaceful demonstrations but objected to violence and called the rioters in Kenosha “monsters.”
The examination also reveals new details about Rosenbaum’s struggles with mental illness and includes the first on-camera interview with his fiancee, Kariann Swart. “I don’t think there’s any sort of self-defense when there’s an unarmed person in front of you, and you’re holding an assault rifle two feet away,” she said. “But yet on the other hand, you know, Joe, you shouldn’t have been down there.”
Watch the video to hear Rittenhouse talk about his intentions that night and to learn more about the paths that brought both men to a tragic encounter.
Greg Jaffe and Mark Guarino contributed to this report.