A driver of an SUV is accused of intentionally plowing into a Christmas parade crowd in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Sunday, killing five people and injuring 48 others.
The driver, identified as Darrell E. Brooks, was fleeing the scene of a domestic disturbance just minutes before crashing into the crowd at the parade, Waukesha Police Chief Daniel Thompson said Monday.
Police took Brooks into custody shortly after the incident. He was identified on Monday as a 39-year-old Wisconsin resident with a criminal history who was already facing multiple charges, including reckless endangerment and battery. He had been released from custody less than two weeks before the crash after posting cash bail.
The Milwaukee suburb was celebrating its annual holiday tradition when Brooks drove the vehicle through barricades and hit dozens of people, many of whom were children, authorities said.
The victims killed in the crash included four women and one man. They were identified as Virginia Sorenson, 79, Tamara Durand, 52, LeAnna Owen, 71, Jane Kulich, 52, and Wilhelm Hospel, 81.
Thompson said Brooks acted alone, adding that there was no evidence that it was a terrorist incident.
Brooks is now facing five counts of intentional homicide, with additional charges pending, authorities said.
The driver appeared to hit members of the Waukesha South High School marching band and a group of older women known as the “Milwaukee Dancing Grannies." Several adults and children were transported to local hospitals. One police officer fired his weapon in an attempt to stop the vehicle, authorities said, but no one was injured by the gunfire.
At least six children injured in the crash are in critical condition, and three are in serious condition, doctors with the Children's Wisconsin hospital said in a news conference on Monday.
The hospital attended to a total of 18 children who were brought there after the crash on Sunday evening; ten of them were admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit.
The children's ages ranged from 3 to 16 years, and the patients included three sets of siblings, medical officials said Monday. Their injuries included facial abrasions, broken bones, and serious head wounds.
The rest of the patients hospitalized at Children's Wisconsin were described as being in "fair" condition. Two patients were discharged, and two are undergoing surgery on Monday.
In a statement on the group's Facebook page, the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies said that "those who died were extremely passionate Grannies."
The statement said the Grannies were doing what they loved, performing in front of crowds and putting smiles on people's faces.
"Their eyes gleamed.....joy of being a Grannie. They were the glue....held us together," the statement said.
A band director for one of the three high schools in Waukesha that participated in the parade started a fundraising campaign to help pay for the medical expenses of the injured members of the Waukesha South High School Band. All of Waukesha's public schools were closed on Monday.
A Catholic priest, multiple parishioners, and Waukesha Catholic schoolchildren were also among those injured, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
The suspect had a prior criminal history and on Nov. 5 was charged with recklessly endangering safety, felony, bail jumping, battery, obstructing a police officer, and disorderly conduct.
The state made a cash bail request of $1,000 which Brooks posted on Nov. 11 and was released from custody. The Milwaukee County District Attorney said Monday that it was reviewing the decision behind the state's bail recommendation for Brooks, calling it "inappropriately low" given the nature of the charges against him.
“Five families in Waukesha are facing fresh grief of a life without a loved one," President Joe Biden said on Monday. "An entire community is struggling, struggling to cope with a horrific act of violence," he said, adding that his administration was closely monitoring the situation.
The parade, a cherished annual event in Waukesha, had been canceled last year because of the pandemic, the New York Times reported. The theme of this year's 58th Christmas parade was "Comfort and Joy."
“Today our community faced horror and tragedy in what should have been a community celebration,” Mayor Shawn Reilly said at a press conference Sunday night.
Reilly, who had marched in the parade, described seeing happy children sitting on the curb with their happy parents behind them.
"I can still see the smiling faces," Reilly said. “I’m deeply saddened to know that so many in our community went to a parade but ended up dealing with injury and heartache."
A video posted on the city of Waukesha's Facebook page shows the moment the driver speeds the red SUV down the road while onlookers fill the crowded sidewalks and a marching band is playing "Jingle Bells." In the video, screams are heard in the crowds and a lone police officer is seen running after the SUV. After about a minute, police cars drive down the road as a group of children stops performing. Another graphic video from a bystander shared on social media shows the SUV plowing through the group of girls dancing with pom-poms as screams and cries fill the air.
Corey Montiho, a local school board member whose daughter was in the parade, told the Journal Sentinel he had to "go from one crumpled body to the other to find [his] daughter."
"There were pom-poms and shoes and spilled hot chocolate everywhere," he told the newspaper.