Jeremiah just wanted to find his car and go home, but he was trapped.
A line of police in riot gear had just forced him and hundreds of other protesters out of Kenosha’s Civic Center Park and into the street. After that, there was nowhere to go. Soldiers and cops blocked one end of the road. White guys with big guns blocked the other.
It was past 11 p.m. local time Tuesday, the third night of protests after a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back. Jeremiah had received a text from a friend saying a bunch of protesters had their tires slashed. He wanted to get to his car before vandals did. He decided the quickest path was to cut through a parking lot.
As he made his way toward it, Jeremiah saw more armed white men. Two crouched on the roof of a building, sniper style. Two or three others stood guard over the lot. One of them, a babyface with a backward ball cap, raised an assault rifle and pointed it at him.
Jeremiah, 24 and Black, was more annoyed than afraid. He’d been out protesting all summer, more than 90 days so far. He knew about these guys and their scare tactics, and he refused to be intimidated.
When the kid started yelling, Jeremiah shouted back: “I’m trying to get out of here. If you’re gonna shoot me, just shoot!”
A few minutes later, Jeremiah saw the same guy pointing his weapon at someone else.
This time, Kyle Rittenhouse fired.
Rittenhouse, 17, has been charged with five felonies and a misdemeanor after shooting three people Tuesday night, two of them fatally. His lead attorney, John M. Pierce of the law firm Pierce Bainbridge, has said he plans to argue self-defense.
That night had felt different from the start.
Among protesters, the rumor spread: Hundreds of white men with guns had answered an online call from a self-described militia group known as the Kenosha Guard and would be waiting in the park to shoot them.
Not nearly that many armed men showed up, but they were impossible to avoid. Some joined the marchers and pledged to protect them. Many protesters still felt more afraid than secure.
Early in the evening, before he became stranded in the search for his car, Jeremiah got into an argument with one of them. Jeremiah was talking to a reporter when an angry woman interrupted, telling him she was tired of people like him burning things down. As he argued he’d done no such thing, an armed man came up and shoved him.
“Be ready,” Jeremiah recalls the man saying. “If you come toward us, we’re gonna open fire.”
The attitude of law enforcement was different that night, too, several people who have attended numerous protests told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. On Sunday and Monday, police had allowed demonstrators to linger in the park. But on Tuesday, what seemed like hundreds more cops than before stood shoulder to shoulder and forced them out. Several armored vehicles rolled through the grass.
Jeremiah later watched a video shot late Tuesday night that shows a law enforcement officer in an armored vehicle giving bottles of water to a group of armed men that included Rittenhouse. The officer thanks the men for their help, though they are clearly civilians in violation of the city’s 8 p.m. curfew.
“We appreciate you guys,” the officer on the video says. “We really do.”
Fact check: Police gave Kyle Rittenhouse water and thanked him before shooting
In another clip, an unidentified armed white man in a baseball cap and a ballistic vest – an unofficial uniform of the self-styled militias – says this: “You know what the cops told us today? They were like, ‘We’re gonna push ‘em down by you, ’cause you can deal with them and then we’re gonna leave.'”
Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth has said he did not deputize citizens and would never do so. Police Chief Daniel Miskinis didn’t respond to the Journal Sentinel’s question about whether he was cooperating with the Kenosha Guard.
Whether the statement on the video was true or not, Jeremiah believes that was the plan.
“They were pushing us to the area where the alt-right group was at,” he said of law enforcement. “We were cornered.”
Avoid that guy’
Marimackenzie was serving as a volunteer street medic that night, providing first aid to injured protesters. Of Native American and Japanese descent, she’d decided to take on the role because she hated the thought of people being hurt while they were protesting violence.
Earlier in the evening, she’d treated a woman hit in the eye with a ricocheted rubber bullet and helped others wash away the tear gas that blurred their vision.
Fellow street medic Gaige Grosskreutz was helping people deal with tear gas, too. Marimackenzie, who had spent several evenings working with him throughout the summer of protests in Milwaukee, stopped to say hello. A 22-year-old with only 20 hours of street medic training to go with her CPR certification, she looked up to Grosskreutz, a licensed paramedic.
Another guy in the vicinity, one Marimackenzie didn’t recognize, was telling people he was a medic, too. But he made her uneasy. He had an AR-15 slung across his chest; no medic she’d ever worked with carried a weapon like that.
Some medics arm themselves with handguns as a last resort for protection, but their priority was helping people. Usually, they were paired with security teams.
Marimackenzie’s medic partner gestured to the young man.
“Avoid that guy. He looks like bad news.”
She would later learn the man who’d drawn her partner’s warning was Rittenhouse.
The two walked on. About 10 minutes later, Marimackenzie heard two men yelling at each other. She couldn’t tell what they were saying. Shots rang out. A man fell to the ground 50 yards from her.
Before she could reach the man, later identified as Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, a group of bystanders had picked him up and placed him into a hospital SUV standing by for injured people at the edge of the Froedtert South medical center’s parking lot.
“Back up!” Marimackenzie yelled at the crowds trying to livestream the scene. “Give the patient his privacy!”
She looked into the man’s eyes. They were open and motionless.
As the SUV carrying Rosenbaum sped across the parking lot to the hospital’s back door, Marimackenzie’s medic partner told her the shooter was still in the area. The two medics crouched behind a brick hospital sign, hoping it would be enough to protect them if he opened fire again.
Her fellow medic didn’t tell her until later that he’d seen the gunman run past them, less than 10 yards away.
Jeremiah saw the shooter flee, too, and he could tell the teen was scared.
“He knew he messed up,” Jeremiah said. “He panicked. Even his people knew what he did was wrong. They were all shouting at him, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ I saw it in their faces. I saw it in their body language.”
Rittenhouse lives in Antioch, Illinois, about 20 miles from Kenosha. Although it’s still not clear how he got to the scene of Tuesday night’s protest, it’s not surprising he decided to go.
Rittenhouse considered himself a member of some sort of militia, trying to protect life and property, according to his social media posts and video interviews. Hours before the shootings, he stood in front of a boarded-up building for an interview with the Daily Caller.
“People are getting injured, and our job is to protect this business,” Rittenhouse said on a video of the interview. “And 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. But I also have my med kit.”
Rittenhouse idolizes the police. His social media accounts, before they were taken down Wednesday, were full of logos and memes supporting law enforcement and showing off his uniform as a member of the Illinois-based Grayslake and Lindenhurst Law Enforcement Explorer Program, which offers young people an inside look at policing.
Rittenhouse, the middle of three children, lived in Grayslake for four or five years, according to a former neighbor who declined to give her name. The children appeared to have a difficult home life growing up.
“Those kids didn’t have a chance,” she said.
Rittenhouse’s parents are divorced, court records show.
In January 2017, his mother filed for a restraining order against two boys at her son’s middle school. They had called him names and threatened to “kick his butt,” court records say.
They also had followed him and taken photos of him to post on social media. A month earlier, they had called the family’s apartment and told Rittenhouse’s mother she needed to watch her son or he would get hurt, she wrote in the court filing.
Rittenhouse’s mother never got the restraining order. She didn’t show up for a court hearing, and the matter was dropped.
Several former classmates at Lakes Community High School in Antioch told VICE News they remembered Rittenhouse as short-tempered and easily offended. He was known for his love of the police, guns and President Donald Trump, they said.
‘They were heroes. They were trying to save our lives’
Jeremiah was near the back of the pack chasing Rittenhouse as he fled the parking lot where Rosenbaum died. Jeremiah was more concerned about getting to his car than he was about trying to catch the gunman.
Anthony Huber was near the front of the group. Jeremiah didn’t know Huber well but had seen him around. A white ally, Huber had participated in June’s Black is Beautiful Ride, a 16-mile trek to raise money for Milwaukee community groups.
At marches throughout the summer, Huber and his skateboard were a near-constant presence. He sometimes served as a scout, rolling ahead of marchers and radioing back about police or hazards along the route.
The last time Jeremiah saw him, Huber was confronting Rittenhouse, who had fallen as he ran.
“Those brave souls were the ones who ran toward him to try to grab his gun,” Jeremiah said. “They were heroes. They were trying to save our lives.”
Huber – armed only with his skateboard – rushed at Rittenhouse and hit him with it before being shot in the chest, stumbling a few paces and falling to the ground.
Another man stopped a couple of feet away, a handgun and a cellphone in his raised hands. A moment later, he moved toward the gunman again, without raising the gun. He was shot in the arm.
On a video, the wounded man can be heard shouting for a medic.
Rittenhouse stands and walks backward for a few paces, confirming he isn’t being followed, the video shows. Then he turns and walks away.
“Everyone was yelling, ‘That’s the shooter!'” Jeremiah said. “And the police just let him pass.”
Beth, the sheriff, has said the officers in the squad cars and armored vehicles Rittenhouse approached with his hands up probably didn’t understand the shouts of the crowd because of the noise and chaos. According to his attorney, Rittenhouse went back to Antioch and turned himself in.
As Marimackenzie, the street medic, left her hiding place near the hospital, she came across a young woman in distress.
“Are you OK, ma’am?” Marimackenzie asked. “Do you need anything?”
“No, I’m not OK!” Huber’s girlfriend, Hannah, screamed through tears. “My boyfriend just got shot!”
The woman was traumatized but not injured. There was nothing Marimackenzie could do.
Once Marimackenzie reached her car, she got a text: “Has anyone heard from Gaige?”
She texted back, not worried about the paramedic she respected so much: “I just saw him 15 minutes ago. I’m sure he’s fine.”
Grosskreutz was the man shot in the arm. With no medics available to respond to his shouts for help, Grosskreutz supervised his own first aid, instructing a man who’d been livestreaming the shooting on how to apply a tourniquet.
Grosskreutz was wearing a hat and backpack that identified him as a medic when he rushed toward Huber, according to a close friend who didn’t want her name used. “And yes, he had a gun because we’re allowed to protect ourselves, but the gun was down, not pointed,” she said.
His partner medic that night, who had first tried to help Huber, took Grosskreutz to two different hospitals, the friend said. At the first, they were asked to clear the waiting room because an injured officer was coming in. From the second, he was airlifted to Froedtert in Milwaukee for surgery.
Jeremiah also considers Grosskreutz a friend.
“He’s a super-cool, laid-back guy,” Jeremiah said of Grosskreutz, who is white. “He’s a great advocate, a great ally, always speaking up for minority groups. He’s just that person everybody loves talking to and he gives great advice.”
Marimackenzie has turned to Grosskreutz for advice, too. She once called him from a Milwaukee protest when she encountered a woman with an open wound and didn’t know what to do.
Marimackenzie said she’s never seen him draw his weapon, not even when he was hit by a car driving through the crowd at another protest over the summer.
“Gaige is a very kind and peaceful man, and people who are trying to argue that he’s not are just wrong,” she said. “He never would have pulled that gun unless he thought his life was at risk.”
Less than 24 hours later, the woman Marimackenzie saw outside the hospital was back in Kenosha, speaking to fellow protesters near the place where her boyfriend died.
Huber “had so much love in his heart for this city,” Hannah said. “He took down an armed gunman with nothing but his f—ing skateboard, and he took that f—ing bullet.”
Still traumatized by the events of the night before, Jeremiah stood and listened.
“I think we have to continue to fight,” he said later. “We’re trying to stop a war, not start another one. We’re fighting to end racism. Fighting for a better future for our kids and our grandkids. I won’t let this stop me.”
Contributing: Ashley Luthern, Annysa Johnson, Jordyn Noenning, Ricardo Torres, Sarah Volpenhein and Samantha Hendrickson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Follow reporter Gina Barton on Twitter: @writerbarton
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Witnesses detail Kenosha shooting, seeing Kyle Rittenhouse at protest
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel