In a telephone interview with The Washington Post, posted Thursday, the jailed Rittenhouse said he acted in self-defense and has no regrets for arming himself that fateful August night as protesters marched in the wake of Jacob Blake's shooting by police.
Rittenhouse, 17, who had worked as a YMCA lifeguard, was arrested at his home in Antioch, Illinois, a day after the fatal shootings of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, on Aug. 25.
"I got my $1,200 from the coronavirus Illinois unemployment because I was on furlough from YMCA, and I got my first unemployment check, so I was like, 'Oh, I'll use this to buy it,'" Rittenhouse said in his first jailhouse interview.
He wasn't old enough to purchase the weapon himself. Authorities allege that he had a friend in Kenosha buy the AR-15 and hold it for him in Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse — who lived across the state line just 20 miles away — said he was out on the streets of Kenosha in southeast Wisconsin on Aug. 25 to protect local businesses and render medical aid during protests.
Pictures of Rittenhouse that night show him with his AR-15 slung over his shoulder and a medic's bag on his hip.
"I was going into a place where people had guns, and God forbid somebody brought a gun to me and decided to shoot me. ... I wanted to be protected, which I ended up having to protect myself," Rittenhouse told The Post.
Asked later whether he regretted arming himself, Rittenhouse said no.
"No, I don't regret it," he said. "I would have died that night if I didn't. I feel like I had to protect myself."
Rosenbaum, one of the victims, had long struggled with mental illness and suicide attempts, and he had just been released from a hospital earlier in the day, his fiancée, Kariann Swart, told The Post.
Swart said they spent hours at a motel where she lived and cleaned rooms. But because of a previous arrest on a domestic violence charge, Rosenbaum left the motel that night, fearing he could be arrested for breaking an order of protection, she told the newspaper.
She urged him to steer clear of downtown Kenosha, but he somehow ended up in the middle of the protest. Video taken by bystanders appears to show Rosenbaum running at Rittenhouse and throwing a plastic bag at him moments before shots ring out and Rosenbaum crumples to the pavement.
Swart said the bag was filled with belongings Rosenbaum had with him at the hospital. She rejected Rittenhouse's self-defense claim.
"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 2 feet away," Swart said.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley couldn't be immediately reached for comment Thursday.