WAUKESHA, Wisconsin – The driver of an SUV that drove through a barricade and crashed into a Christmas parade in suburban Waukesha on Sunday was fleeing domestic unrest moments before killing at least five people and injuring more than 40, police said.
Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson said Monday that Darrell Brooks Jr., 39, was fleeing domestic unrest with a report of a knife when he crashed into the parade. Brooks was not prosecuted, Thompson said. He will be charged with five counts of intentional homicide, Thompson added.
The dead were four women and a man aged 52 to 81. Thompson said 48 people were injured in the crash, which was captured during the city’s live broadcast as the SUV struck a high school band, a children’s dance group and the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies.
Local hospital officials said earlier Monday that at least six children were in critical condition. The Wisconsin Children’s Hospital received 18 patients, aged 3 to 16, including three siblings, doctors said.
“Last night our magnificent Waukesha parade became the scene of a horrific tragedy. Last night this parade became a nightmare,” Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said at a press conference Monday.
Governor Tony Evers has ordered flags to be hoisted on half of the staff on Monday and on the days the victims’ funerals are held. Evers said he and his wife, Kathy, “are praying for Waukesha tonight and for all the children, families and community members affected by this senseless act.” The town of Waukesha has announced that it will be holding an interfaith prayer vigil on Monday.
Who was the driver of the SUV?
Brooks, a Milwaukee man with an open domestic violence court case, has been arrested and will face five counts of first degree intentional homicide, Thompson said.
Thompson provided few details of the domestic unrest beyond the fact that there had been a report of a knife. He said police did not react to this scene until they immediately went to the parade. Thompson said Brooks was acting alone and there was no indication of terrorism.
“It’s a fluid investigation,” said Thompson.
Brooks has been accused three times in less than two years of recklessly endangering the safety of others, most recently on November 5 in a domestic violence incident for which he was also charged resistance or obstruction to an officer.
In the most recent case, a woman told police that Brooks purposely hit her with her vehicle as she walked through the parking lot of a gas station after he followed her there after a brawl, according to the criminal complaint. The woman was hospitalized, according to court records.
Brooks was released from jail on Friday after posting bail in the recent incident, court records show. He was also charged in July 2020 with two counts of recklessly endangering the safety of others to the second degree with a dangerous weapon. Both cases are ongoing.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office said it had launched an internal review of its “inappropriate” bail recommendation in the recent domestic violence case. Brooks posted a $ 1,000 bond, according to the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office.
What happened at the parade?
Waukesha, a town of 72,000 people 20 miles west of Milwaukee, was celebrating the holidays with a parade when disaster struck at around 4:39 pm local time. Angelito Tenorio, a West Allis city councilor, said he had just finished walking with his family and friends when he saw the vehicle passing through the parade.
“We saw an SUV drive through, just put the pedal on the metal and go full speed down the parade route,” Tenorio said. “And then we heard a loud bang, and deafening screams and screams from people hit by the vehicle. And then we saw people running away or stop crying, and there are people on the ground. which appeared to have been hit by the vehicle. “
Thompson said he was at the scene shortly after the crash. “What I have seen of chaos and tragedy are heroes,” he said. “First responders and the community come together and work together to sort out the victims.”
Was there a shooting?
A police officer pulled at the SUV in an attempt to stop it, but stopped shooting due to the size of the crowd, Thompson said. No passerby was injured by the gunfire. He said police did not believe shots were fired from the SUV. The officer who fired was on administrative leave pending an investigation according to department policy, Thompson said.
Who were the victims? Deaths include members of Milwaukee Dancing Grannies
Thompson identified the dead as Virginia “Ginny” Sorenson, 79, LeAnna Owen, 71, Tamara Durand, 52, Jane Kulich, 52, and Wilhelm Hospel, 81.
Among the victims were members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies and a member of the Citizen Bank team marching with a parade float.
Sorenson was a 19-year veteran of the Dancing Grannies, a group of grandmothers in their early 50s to mid-70s who met once a week to practice parade routines.
“What did she like about it? Everything,” said her husband, 56, David Sorenson. “She loved teaching. She loved dancing and the camaraderie of women. She loved playing.”
A registered nurse, Ginny Sorenson worked part-time in medical records. In their home in Muskego, she looked after animals, including two horses, chickens, dogs and cats. She used the extra money for animals and treats for her grandchildren, her daughter Heather Sorenson said. For the Sorensons, Grannies were an activity for the whole family.
“The Grannies are kind of a tight-knit unit,” said Beth Krohn, a retired member of the group. “We used to call it a brotherhood.”
At least 18 children treated in hospital
Hospitals in the region were still treating the victims on Monday as questions remain about the exact number of injuries or deaths.
The injured sustained serious head injuries, broken bones and scrapes to their faces, officials said; six people were operated on Sunday evening and two others were operated on Monday.
In addition to the six children in critical condition, three remained in serious condition.
Aurora Medical Center-Summit, a hospital in Waukesha County, confirmed it was treating 13 patients on Monday morning. Of those 13 people, three were in critical condition, four in serious condition and six in fair condition, according to a statement from the hospital, located about 15 miles from the scene.
“We pray for all those affected, their families and our first responders,” the statement said.
Staff at Children’s Wisconsin said the hospital had helped treat a total of 18 children.
Corey Montiho, a board member for the Waukesha School District, said his daughter’s dance team was hit by the SUV. “They were pom poms and shoes and spilling hot chocolate all over the place. I had to go from crumpled body to crumpled body to find my daughter,” he said.
He said his wife and two daughters were almost shot.
“My family is safe, but many are not. I held a little girl’s head in my hand, she was grabbing and she was bleeding from the ears. I held her mother while she was collapsing. Please pray. “
President Joe Biden addressed the tragedy on Monday, saying: “An entire community is struggling to face this horrific act of violence.”
Biden said his administration was monitoring the situation and that he and his family were praying for the victims and families.
“Our team is in close contact with the local authorities to offer all the necessary support and assistance,” said Jen Psaki, White House press secretary. tweeted. “Our thoughts are with the families and the whole community.”
The Green Bay Packers released a statement on Sunday saying the team’s thoughts were with the Waukesha community and “those affected by the terrible and senseless act that took place during the holiday parade.”
“We are grateful to the first responders and others who helped the injured and comforted those in need,” the statement continued. “We share our condolences with those who have lost loved ones. As a statewide community, we must all come together to support each other in these difficult times.”
Bacon brought from Arlington, Virginia. Miller reported from Carlsbad, California.
Contributor: Bill Glauber, Christopher Kuhagen, Mary Spicuzza, Molly Beck, Sophie Carson, Evan Casey, Cathy Kozlowicz, Elliot Hughes and Devi Shastri, Milwaukee Journal Sentry; Celina Tebor, USA TODAY; The Associated Press