SUV driver in Wisconsin parade crash was fleeing a domestic disturbance, police say
5 people killed, 48 wounded, including children now in critical condition
The man suspected of plowing his SUV into a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing at least five people and injuring 48, had been in a domestic disturbance just minutes before, Waukesha's police chief says.
Police Chief Dan Thompson says there is no evidence the crash on Sunday was a terrorist attack or that the suspect, Darrell Brooks Jr., knew anyone in the parade. Brooks acted alone, the chief said.
Brooks had left the scene of the domestic disturbance before officers arrived, and he was not being chased by police at the time of the crash, according to the chief. An officer did fire a shot to try to stop him but ceased firing because of the danger to others. Brooks was not injured.
Police were drawing up five charges of intentional homicide against Brooks, 39, of Milwaukee, Thompson said.
He has been charged with crimes 16 times since 1999 and had two outstanding cases against him at the time of the parade disaster — including one in which he was accused of deliberately running down a woman with his vehicle.
Police identified those killed during the parade crash as Virginia Sorenson, 79; LeAnna Owen, 71; Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; and Wilhelm Hospel, 81.
The joyous scene of marching bands and children dancing in Santa hats and waving pompoms turned deadly in an instant Sunday, giving way to screams and scenes of crumpled bodies as the SUV sped through barricades and struck dancers, musicians and others.
Mayor Shawn Reilly described the event as a "Norman Rockwell-type of Christmas parade" that "became a nightmare."
According to eyewitness Nicole Schneiter, who was there with her children and grandchildren, "It looked like dummies being thrown in the air.
"It took a second to register, like, 'Is that what we really just saw?' And then you looked in the road and there were just people laying in the road."
Children in critical condition
At least nine patients — most of whom were children — were listed in critical condition Monday at two hospitals, and seven others were reported in serious condition.
Brooks has two open criminal cases in Milwaukee County. In one case, filed Nov. 5, he is charged with resisting or obstructing an officer, reckless endangering, disorderly conduct, bail jumping and battery. Records show $1,000 cash bond was posted on Friday.
In the other case, filed in July 2020, Brooks is charged with reckless endangering and illegal possession of a firearm.
In the more recent case, a woman told police that Brooks deliberately ran her over with his vehicle in a gas station parking lot after a fight. She was hospitalized for her injuries.
The horror was recorded by the city's livestream and onlookers' cellphones. One video shows the moment the SUV broke through the barricades and the sound of what apparently were several gunshots.
Another video shows a young child dancing in the street as the SUV speeds by, just a few feet from her, before it hurtles into parade participants a few hundred feet ahead. One video, of dancers with pompoms, ends with a group of people tending to a girl on the ground.
'Like a war scene'
"It was like a war scene walking through there," said Ken Walter, who had been riding in the parade in a hot air balloon basket along with his wife and youngest son. "There were these piles of blankets with cops standing over them that you just knew were bodies."
Walter said he saw a red SUV careen into view and watched it hit a member of his real estate-agency parade contingent, then barrel straight into members of the Waukesha South High School marching band.
The SUV continued down the parade route. Behind it, people were screaming, running, searching for family and friends and unsure whether they were still in danger, he recalled.
"It was like everything went into slow motion, and I couldn't hear anything," Walter said.
The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies posted earlier on its Facebook page that some of its members were among the dead. The organization describes itself as a "group of grannies that meet once a week to practice routines for summer and winter parades."
"Our group was doing what they loved, performing in front of crowds in a parade putting smiles on faces of all ages, filling them with joy and happiness," the post said.
"Those who died were extremely passionate Grannies. Their eyes gleamed … joy of being a Grannie. They were the glue … held us together."
SUV 'blazed right past us'
A Roman Catholic priest, parishioners and Waukesha Catholic schoolchildren were among those injured, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee said.
Chris Germain, co-owner of the Aspire Dance Center studio, had about 70 people in the parade, including children as young as two being pulled in wagons and participants up to 18 years old.
Germain, whose three-year-old daughter was in the parade, said he was driving at the head of their entry when he saw a maroon SUV that "just blazed right past us." A police officer ran past in chase. Germain said he jumped out of his own SUV and gathered the girls who were with him to safety.
Then he walked forward to see the damage.
"There were small children laying all over the road. There were police officers and EMTs doing CPR on multiple members of the parade," he said.
Angelito Tenorio, a West Allis alderman who is running for Wisconsin state treasurer, said he was watching the parade with his family when they saw the SUV come speeding into the area.
"Then we heard a loud bang," Tenorio said. "And after that, we just heard deafening cries and screams from the crowd, from the people at the parade. And people started rushing, running away with tears in their eyes, crying."
The Waukesha school district cancelled classes Monday and said extra counselors would be on hand for students and staff. The parade's list of participants included cheer, dance and band entries associated with district schools.
Gov. Tony Evers said he and his wife were "praying for Waukesha tonight and all the kids, families, and community members affected by this senseless act."
Today, I've ordered the U.S. and Wisconsin flags to be flown at half-staff as we continue to pray for the Waukesha community and the kids, loved ones, and neighbors whose lives were forever changed by an unthinkable tragedy last night. <a href="https://t.co/QyZ8oFT6QY">pic.twitter.com/QyZ8oFT6QY</a>—@GovEvers
The parade, held each year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, is sponsored by the city's Chamber of Commerce. This year's event, the 59th, had the theme of "comfort and joy."
- A previous version of this story said Darrell Brooks faces charges in another case that include reckless homicide. In fact, online court records indicate his name is Darrell Brooks Jr. and that he faces a charge of second-degree recklessly endangering safety.Nov 22, 2021 11:37 AM ET