Kyle Rittenhouse’s mother says she would have tried to stop her teenage son from going to downtown Kenosha with an AR-15-style rifle during chaotic protests in August, but she didn’t know where he was or what he was doing. By the time she found out, he had fatally shot two men and wounded a third.
Since the shootings made international headlines, many have wondered what influence the 17-year-old’s parents had on his decision-making and access to a gun. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Wendy Rittenhouse, a single mother of three, conceded her son shouldn’t have been there but declined to talk about the weapon he used.
She repeatedly sought to deflect blame for the shootings away from her son and the friend now charged with illegally providing him with the rifle used to shoot three men. While she voiced anger at the authorities, some politicians and protesters, she expressed little sympathy toward the families of the men her son shot.
“No one should have been there,” she said. “The protesters should not have been there, also. My son shouldn’t have been there either.”
Rittenhouse, 45, largely has limited her public comments since her son’s arrest. Her attorney, John M. Pierce, has been offering time to other media organizations in recent days. She spent much of her Chicago Tribune interview calling for her son’s release on bail.
Asked if she had anything to say to the families of the two men killed that night, she pointed to a recent online bail hearing at which one man’s father made critical comments about her son.
“I am not saying nothing because I watched when he had his bail hearing and I’m not going to say anything,” she said.
Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, died from their injuries, while a third man, Gaige Grosskreutz, who prosecutors have said was armed with a handgun, survived being shot in the arm. Rittenhouse’s attorneys have argued he shot all the men in self-defense.
Huber tried to stop Rittenhouse, hitting him with a skateboard after the teen shot Rosenbaum. John Huber, his father, told the court that Kyle Rittenhouse thinks he is “above the law” and would be a flight risk if he was released.
“It’s not about gun rights. My son was killed. Another man was killed. They didn’t deserve to be killed,” John Huber said during the hearing.
Kimberley Motley, an attorney for Grosskreutz, said it was troubling that no one prevented a teenager from going to a protest with a gun during a pandemic.
“I cannot think of any good reason why Rittenhouse was carrying a weapon on the streets during the protests, and I don’t think he can either,” she told the Chicago Tribune.
Citing “the incredibly serious charges,” a Kenosha County court commissioner found Rittenhouse would be a flight risk and kept his bail at $2 million. He remains in jail on a murder charge and other counts. He has been held there since Oct. 30, the day he was extradited from Lake County to Wisconsin.
As Wendy Rittenhouse and her son’s attorneys try to raise money for both his release and legal defense fund, she scoffed at the suggestion her son could flee the area before a trial.
“I have $1.20 in my account,” she said. “You think I can get on a plane?”
However, she has received a substantial amount of money in donations. Two organizations — one that supports gun rights and another that backs militias across the country — have given a combined $100,000 to help with personal expenses, Pierce said. He told the Chicago Tribune that she has complete control of the money, which she is using to pay her bills while on leave from her job and living in an undisclosed location.
The donations reflect the backing Kyle Rittenhouse has received in conservative circles. A legal-defense fund has raised nearly $2 million, Pierce said. He said he hopes it will raise millions more.
Individual online fundraising campaigns on behalf of those shot have raised about $250,000 combined. The largest one, aimed at helping Huber’s girlfriend and her daughter with expenses, garnered more than $150,000.
“Anthony decided to use his voice and stand up for a cause that meant something,” a statement on the verified fundraising page read. “While peacefully protesting, Anthony selflessly tried to aid in taking down an attacker when he was gunned down.”
Violent protests erupted in Kenosha after police Officer Rusten Sheskey, who is white, shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, several times in the back at close range. The demonstrations — fueled by video of the shooting — turned destructive at points, leaving parts of the city damaged.
In response to the unrest, vigilantes, many of them claiming a connection to a local militia group, walked downtown streets with guns as local law enforcement did little to dissuade them.
Kyle Rittenhouse was among those on the streets Aug. 25, unbeknown to his mother. Wendy Rittenhouse, a certified nursing assistant at a local nursing home, said she worked a 16-hour shift the previous night, slept late the next morning and was unaware of her son’s plans.
“It’s a tragedy what happened to Mr. Blake. It is,” she said. “But my son and everybody else should not have been in Kenosha.”
Rittenhouse said her son does not belong to any militia group, including the Kenosha Guard, which put out a call to arms on Facebook during the unrest. Prosecutors also have not suggested any connection between her son and militias.
Kyle Rittenhouse and friend Dominic Black initially went to Kenosha to help clean graffiti off a school, according to his mother and Pierce. While there, they learned about a used car dealership that had been hit particularly hard the night before and offered to protect the business.
Asked if it was an appropriate job for a teen, Wendy Rittenhouse said no. The blame, she said, is on police officers who didn’t protect the businesses and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, for failing to deploy reinforcements.
“The police should have helped the businesses out instead of having a 17-year-old kid helping him,” she said. “The police should have been involved with these people that lost their businesses. They should have stepped up. I’m not mad at the police. I’m not. They have a hard enough job as it is.”
Prosecutors have charged Kyle Rittenhouse with carrying his gun illegally, an allegation his lawyers dispute. On Monday, a court commissioner set Black’s bail at $2,500 on felony charges that he supplied a dangerous weapon to a minor, causing death. Black’s attorney could not be reached for comment.
Wendy Rittenhouse repeatedly declined to discuss what she knew about her son’s semi-automatic rifle. Police reports indicate Black, then 18, bought the gun for Kyle Rittenhouse earlier this year at a northern Wisconsin hardware store. Black, who was with Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha that night, kept the gun at his stepfather’s house in Wisconsin, police said.
Black told investigators that Wendy Rittenhouse was going to apply for a firearm owner’s identification card in Illinois so they could legally keep the gun in Antioch, according to police reports.
Wendy Rittenhouse refused to discuss Black’s statement to investigators or his alleged role in obtaining the gun, saying only that she loves him like a son. She also would not say if she knew her son owned the rifle, but she said has no problem with teenagers possessing guns.
A native of northern Michigan, she grew up around guns but does not own any herself.
“I believe in my Second Amendment. I do,” she said. “I’m 100% right to bear arms. If it’s a handgun, a 12-gauge, a 22, AR-15. You have to respect the gun. And I told my son, ’you have to respect the gun’ and everything like that.”
Social media users accused Wendy Rittenhouse of driving her son to Kenosha that day, sharing a picture of a woman who is not her as proof. In reality, she was 20 miles away in Illinois, getting a COVID-19 test required for her job and running errands with her oldest daughter, she said.
She said she did not check in with her son until around midnight, when she texted him to ask what he was doing and received a reply about him “doing medic” duties. She said she briefly fell asleep but then woke up, “knowing something was wrong.”
Alarmed, she and her daughters soon started driving around looking for him, she said. Their search proved futile and they returned to their Antioch apartment, where Kyle and Black were waiting.
Describing her memories of that night as “fuzzy,” Wendy Rittenhouse said the family talked for about 20 minutes before deciding to go to the Antioch Police Department. According to police records, Kyle Rittenhouse told authorities there he shot two people and killed at least one.
Echoing earlier statements from her son’s attorneys, Wendy Rittenhouse said the teen acted in self-defense. Prosecutors, on the other hand, alleged that Rittenhouse’s actions showed “utter disregard for human life.”
She said she has watched video of the shootings in small increments, singling out one that made her “sick.” In describing her disgust, she cited recordings of the men approaching her son — not the images of him shooting them.
“Self-defense,” she said, as her voice rose. “He was in danger.”
Huber’s father disagreed.
“This defense of self-defense? That is impossible,” said John Huber at last week’s bail hearing. “(Rittenhouse) was an active shooter and he tried to flee. And my son lost his life protecting other people. He was a hero. Anyone who says otherwise is dead wrong.”