Kyle Rittenhouse, the Antioch teen accused of killing two men and wounding another during violent demonstrations this summer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, told The Washington Post he has no regrets about arming himself with an assault-style rifle and wading into the chaotic protests.
"I feel I had to protect myself," Rittenhouse said in a jailhouse interview with the Post, his first public comments since the Aug. 25 killings. "I would've died that night if I didn't."
Rittenhouse's interview was published Thursday as part of a Post investigation into the events that led the 17-year-old into a deadly confrontation with Joseph Rosenbaum, a Kenosha man with a long history of mental illness and criminal convictions.
Authorities say Rittenhouse killed Rosenbaum, 36, and then shot two more protesters who chased him, one fatally. He now faces charges including first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide.
As a condition of the phone interview from the juvenile detention center where Rittenhouse was being held, the Post agreed not to ask him about the shootings or the events immediately preceding them.
Rittenhouse told the Post he traveled to Kenosha the day before the shooting to visit a friend, just as initially peaceful protests over the police shooting of an unarmed Black man were turning violent. The next day, he said, he went into downtown Kenosha to help clean up businesses that had been burned and damaged and clean graffiti from a vandalized school.
"It made me feel like I was making a positive impact on the community," he said.
Rittenhouse describes himself as patriotic and said he grew up wanting to be a police officer or firefighter/paramedic. His sister told the Post he supported peaceful protests, but called rioters "monsters."
Rittenhouse returned to downtown Kenosha later that night armed with an AR-15 rifle and carrying a medical kit. He told the Post he intended to protect a used car business that had been damaged the night before and provide medical assistance to anyone who needed it.
Although there were many other armed civilians doing the same, some as part of organized efforts, Rittenhouse said he was not part of any group.
"I was going into a place where people had guns and God forbid somebody brought a gun to me and decided to shoot me, like I, like I wanted to be protected, which I ended up having to protect myself," he said.
Rittenhouse told the Post he had an friend, Dominick Black, buy the AR-15 for him in the spring, with money Rittenhouse received from a government stimulus check.
"I got my $1,200 from the coronavirus Illinois unemployment, because I was on furlough from the YMCA," he said. "And I got my first unemployment check, so I was like, 'Oh, I'll use this to buy it.'"
Because he could not own a rifle or carry it in public, Rittenhouse said he kept the AR-15 at the home of Black's stepfather in Wisconsin. Black, 19, faces two counts of intentionally giving a dangerous weapon to a person under age 18, causing death.
Rittenhouse, meanwhile, was extradited to Wisconsin late last month and is awaiting trial on charges that could put him in prison for life. He didn't address the charges in his interview, but his mother told the Post her son should be at home, not behind bars.
"When I saw pieces of video (of the shooting), that's self-defense and he needs to come home to his family," Wendy Rittenhouse said.