Waukesha: How a ‘Norman Rockwell-type’ Christmas parade turned into ‘senseless tragedy’

Five dead and at least 48 injured as police rule out act of terrorism

Andrew Buncombe
Tuesday 23 November 2021 08:30
Waukesha mayor says ‘Norman Rockwell-type parade’ became ‘nightmare’

A city in the American heartland is in mourning and shock after five people were killed and dozens injured, when a SUV ploughed into a Christmas parade, scattering crowds and sending people fleeing in horror.

Officials in Waukesha, Wisconsin, said the parade, a “Norman Rockwell-type event” that the city had proudly hosted for decades for both residents and visitors, was part of its very fabric.

Yet, this year’s celebrations turned into horror when, on Sunday, a speeding SUV was seen tearing down the road on which the parade was being held, and slamming into participants and onlookers.

With the state, and the nation, already on edge over the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, a proceeding that appears to have divided the nation, some commentators expressed a small degree of relief when police in Waukesha, 50 miles northwest of Kenosha, said they were not treating Sunday’s incident as terrorism.

At a press conference, Waukesha Police Chief Daniel Thompson said that 39-year-old Darrell Brooks, a resident of nearby Milwaukee, had been detained and was to be charged with five counts of “intentional homicide”.

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“He drove right through the barricades and the officers,” said Mr Thompson, who said any motive was still being examined. “Minutes after the incident occurred, I responded to the scene. And what I saw out of chaos and tragedy were heroes – first responders in the community coming together and working together on triaging victims.”

He added: “This was not a terrorist event.”

Police said five people were killed, and named them as Virginia Sorenson, 79, LeAnna Owen, 71, Tamara Durand, 52, Jane Kulich, 52, and Wilhelm Hospel, 81. Several were members of a group called the Dancing Grannies.

Earlier, hospital officials said a number of children were among at least 48 people injured, and that several remained in a critical condition.

Mayor Shawn Walker said the city’s parade, consisting of marching bands and children dancing in Santa hats, was a part of Waukesha’s tradition.

He said some had described it as a “Norman Rockwell-type” event, referring to the late American painter, whose works were known for their sometimes idealised portrayals of everyday American life.

Mayor Sean Reilly said city was community where people looked out for each other

“Last night we experienced a senseless tragedy. Many of us were participants in the parade and witnessed these horrific actions,” said Mr Walker, whose city has a population of 72,000.

“Waukesha is a community that takes pride in its identity and has a wonderful spirit. Waukesha looks after each other. Waukesha enjoys it celebrations and the entire community joins in those celebrations. We are a close community.”

He added: “Waukesha is a community where many of its residents have lived for generations. Waukesha is also the type of community where new residents tell their friends to move here because it is so special.”

The incident happened just days after a jury in Kenosha found Mr Rittenhouse not guilty of five charges relating to his shooting dead two people and injuring a third, amid protests over the police’s shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, last August.

Mr Rittenhouse, now aged 18, argued he had acted in self defence, and his case was championed by many 2nd Amendment and gun rights advocates, as well as former president Donald Trump. Many communities, in the state and beyond, were on alert after the not guilty verdicts were returned.

Waukesha parade watcher says he pushed daughter out of harms way

On Monday, President Joe Biden said he was offering prayers for Waukesha and those impacted by the “horrific act of violence”.

“While we don’t have all the facts and details yet, we know this morning that five families in Waukesha are facing fresh grief of a life without a loved one. At least 40 Americans are suffering from injuries, some of them in critical condition, and an entire community is struggling, struggling to cope with the horrific act of violence,” he said.

It was revealed that Mr Brooks, the suspect, had only left jail on bail 10 days ago, for a sum of just $1,000, an amount that officials said was “inappropriately low”.

Court records showed he had been charged three times in less than two years with recklessly endangering the safety of others, most recently on Nov 5. That was part of a domestic abuse incident for which he was also charged with resisting or obstructing an officer, and had been bailed for $1,000.

Darell Brooks to be charged with five counts of intentional homicide

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office said it was investigating the bail recommendations from previous crimes said to involve Mr Brooks.

“The state’s bail recommendation in this case was inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent charges and the pending charges against Mr Brooks,” said the office of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.

“The bail recommendation in this case is not consistent with the approach of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office toward matters involving violent crime, nor was it consistent with the risk assessment of the defendant prior to setting of bail.”

It added: “This office is currently conducting an internal review of the decision to make the recent bail recommendation.”

Video footage recorded on Sunday afternoon showed scenes of normality suddenly turning into horror.

“It looked like dummies being thrown in the air,” Nicole Schneiter, who was there with her children and grandchildren, told the Associated Press.

“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 road.”

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