Kyle Rittenhouse loved cops, guns, President Trump, and “triggering the libs,” according to some of his former classmates at Lakes Community High School in Lake County, Illinois. His clothes were often branded with pro-police slogans, and he carried a Blue Lives Matter phone case, one student said.
Some of his classmates joked that he’d be a mass shooter one day. “I personally believe he went to Wisconsin with the intent to kill,” said one former classmate, who asked not to be identified out of fear for their safety.
Rittenhouse, 17, was arrested Wednesday and charged with murder in the killing of two Black Lives Matter protesters Tuesday night in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He’d traveled there, he claimed, to help “protect people,” during the ongoing protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man. Blake’s family says he’s now partially paralyzed.
While Rittenhouse was only enrolled at Lakes Community High School for the 2017 to 2018 academic year, he left an impression. Students reached by VICE News described him as short-tempered and easily offended.
“When he got mad or offended he would always say he could ‘fuck me up,’ but everyone would just laugh because he was like a 5-foot-4 chubby freshman boy who we thought wasn’t capable of harm,” said Joe, who’s a minor and asked that his full name not be used.
Rittenhouse spent a lot of time out of school — which his classmates attributed to his involvement with the Grayslake Police Department’s Public Safety Cadet Program, part of a youth program for aspiring cops in Lake County. The Grayslake Police Department confirmed Rittenhouse’s involvement in the program but weren’t able to comment further about his involvement. The program added it was “fully cooperating with the FBI and the Kenosha Police Department” in their investigation.
Rittenhouse was also known as a “ride or die” Trump supporter. “If you said anything bad about Trump, he’d threaten you,” Joe said. In January, Rittenhouse even traveled to Iowa, where he had front row seats at a Trump rally, Buzzfeed reported. “Kyle was the type of kid to wear a MAGA hat or other apparel just for attention, or to “trigger” people,” Joe added.
Another one of Rittenhouse’s classmates said he used to refer to the school, located in a Chicago suburb, as “libtard af.”
“Kyle was kind of shy from what I remember, but he was definitely in your face and pushed his views hella,” they said. “Like one of those kids that liked ‘triggering libtards.’”
While Rittenhouse’s hometown of Antioch is more conservative — Trump won the town in 2016 with about 50% of the vote — the demographics of Lakes Community High School are a little different given its proximity to Chicago.
“He went to middle school with my little sister and she said that everyone always thought of him to be a possible future shooter,” said Joe, “and so did I when I met him in high school.”
The school district superintendent who oversees Lakes Community High School told the Chicago Tribune that it wasn’t clear why Rittenhouse left school in 2018 or where he went afterward. Public records show that his mother’s address, where he lives, remained the same. Former classmates said they thought he’d switched to online learning — and that he may have been bullied.
Some of his former classmates have been circulating an old video from three years ago, which was shared with VICE News. It appears to show someone running up behind Rittenhouse, tripping him up and pushing him to the ground. “What the fuck is your problem little bitch?” Rittenhouse says, standing up. “Chill, Kyle,” someone replies.
In January 2017, before he enrolled in Lakes Community High School, his mother Wendy Rittenhouse — a single mom who works as a nurse’s assistant — filed a request for an order of protection against one of her son’s classmates. She accused them of threatening to harm her son, or insulting him by calling him “dumb” or “stupid, according to the Chicago Tribune. She ultimately dropped the request.
Rittenhouse made no secret that he’d traveled to Kenosha on Tuesday. He posted on Snapchat about Blake, the father of six, whose lawyers say he was shot by police while trying to break up a domestic dispute. Rittenhouse posted Blake’s mugshot from a prior arrest with the caption “lol, he’s innocent.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Rittenhouse posted a video of himself cleaning graffiti off of a wall. And then later on, another very brief Snapchat, showing the flashing lights of police vehicles and his rifle scope.
Social media linked to Rittenhouse also showed his affinity for Blue Lives Matter and the Back the Blue movements, which in recent months has inspired the presence of pro-cop vigilante groups at civil rights protests.
On Tuesday night, Rittenhouse joined up with a crew of pro-cop vigilantes and militiamen who had been standing guard by a gas station. He was shown on video palling around with police officers, who thanked him for being there and gave him a bottle of water — even though it was after the 8 p.m. curfew.
Hours later, after a confrontation between protesters and militia men, Rittenhouse opened fire, according to bystander video from the scene.
First he allegedly killed a protester, by shooting him in the head. Then he tried to run away, while talking on the phone: “I’ve just killed someone,” he said in video captured on a cell phone.
A crowd of protesters then chased Rittenhouse down a street, a scene captured from multiple angles on cell phones. He tripped, fell, and just as two protesters came toward him, he sat up, aimed, and opened fire. He appeared to shoot one person in the chest, killing them, and injured a second with a bullet to the arm.
Then Rittenhouse stood up and walked away in the direction of the armored police vehicles which were approaching the scene in response to reports of gunfire. Video shows him with his hands up, rifle clearly displayed, in apparent surrender. Police drove right past him. (Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth later tried to defend police’s inaction: “In situations that are high-stress, you have such incredible tunnel vision,” he said.)
Rittenhouse then fled Kenosha and crossed the Illinois state line to Antioch, just 20 miles south. He was labeled a fugitive, arrested the following day, and charged with first-degree murder.
Cover: Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, helps clean the exterior of Reuther Central High School in Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. (Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)