Wisconsin parade nightmare: Biden addresses the nation after SUV plows into marchers
Waukesha, Wisconsin - The driver of an SUV crashed through barriers and plowed into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Sunday evening, killing at least five and injuring more than 40 others, including children, authorities said.
Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson said a person of interest was in custody and the SUV had been recovered.
A marching band was playing Jingle Bells Sunday afternoon as the popular traditional parade wound through downtown Waukesha, about 20 miles west of Milwaukee, when the SUV came out of nowhere and barreled through, terrifying social media video showed.
Thompson confirmed more than 20 people had been injured after the driver of the red SUV sped through the parade.
He also said an officer had fired shots to try and stop the car after it broke through the barriers, and that no bystanders had been injured from the discharge. "It’s an ongoing investigation," Thompson said in the first of three briefings held throughout the evening.
At 7 PM, police urged people to avoid the downtown area within a half-mile radius as they continued the investigation.
Police withheld the victims' identities as they notified next of kin.
Chaos and crumpled bodies
Witnesses described a chaotic scene.
"There were pom-poms and shoes and spilled hot chocolate everywhere," Waukesha school board member Corey Montiho, whose daughter was in a youth dance team that was hit, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I had to go from one crumpled body to the other to find my daughter. My wife and two daughters were almost hit."
"It just all happened so fast," local alderman and state treasurer candidate Angelito Tenorio told the Journal Sentinel.
"As we were walking back in between the buildings that we saw an SUV cross over, just put the pedal to the metal, and just zooming full speed along the parade route," he said.
"And then we heard a loud bang, and just deafening cries and screams from people who are struck by the vehicle. And then we saw people running away or stopping crying, and there are people on the ground who looked like they’d been hit by the vehicle."
A video posted on Twitter showed a speeding red SUV careening alongside marchers and barely missing a little girl whose back was to the street as she danced to the drums and music.
Schools closed as city mourns tragedy
The parade is a cherished annual event that kicks off a season of holiday merriment, the Journal Sentinel noted. This year Waukesha is celebrating its 125th anniversary.
Waukesha schools were closed on Monday as administrators determined how best to cope with the tragedy.
"At this time, we are working with the police department to more fully comprehend all of the tragic details of this unfortunate event," Superintendent of Schools James Sebert and Deputy Superintendent Joe Koch said in a Facebook post Sunday night.
"As a result of this situation, school will be canceled on Monday, November 22, 2021, for all students in grades 4K - 12. Additionally, the District will have additional counselors available during the school day at all buildings for all students that may be in need of support services."
They said a decision about Tuesday would be made on Monday, and promised additional counselors during the day at all buildings for any students who may need support.
"Our thoughts are with everyone impacted, with all who witnessed the event, and with our entire community," they concluded.
"Tonight was a traumatic situation for the city of Waukesha," Mayor Shawn Reilly said at a briefing.
Governor Tony Evers expressed condolences as well.
"Kathy and I are praying for Waukesha tonight and all the kids, families, and community members affected by this senseless act," he said in a statement.
"I’m grateful for the first responders and folks who acted quickly to help, and we are in contact with local partners as we await more information," Evers added.
Update, November 22, 11:08 AM EST: Darrell Brooks is identified as suspect in custody
The "person of interest" taken into custody has been identified as Darrell Brooks, the Associated Press reported.
Two officials confirmed Brooks' identity on condition of anonymity.
The 39-year-old has two open criminal cases against him with charges including resisting or obstructing an officer, reckless homicide, disorderly conduct, bail jumping, illegal possession of a firearm, and battery. Records show he posted bond on Friday.
Investigators are questioning whether Brooks may have been fleeing from an earlier crime before driving into the crowd, which an official described as an argument involving a knife. The investigation is ongoing.
Update, November 22, 2:40 PM EST: Brooks faces homicide charges as Biden addresses the nation
Police Chief Daniel Thompson confirmed in a press conference that the five deceased victims range in age from 52 to 81, and include four females and one male.
He announced Darrell E. Brooks is facing five charges of intentional homicide, adding more charges may be possible.
Brooks was involved in a domestic dispute just before driving his SUV through the parade. There was no police pursuit leading up to the incident.
President Biden addressed the nation on Monday and said he was praying for "all the victims of this tragedy." He thanked emergency room doctors who were dealing with the over 48 injured, some of which are children in critical condition.
There are at least three sets of siblings among those, a hospital official confirmed.
Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire