WAUKESHA, Wis. The SUV driver, who was plowing into a Christmas parade in the suburb of Milwaukee, killed at least five people and injured 48, was about to leave the scene of a domestic dispute that had taken place minutes earlier, Waukesha police chief said Monday.
Police Chief Dan Thompson said there was no evidence that the bloodshed on Sunday was a terrorist attack or that the suspect, Darrell Brooks Jr., knew anyone in the parade. Brooks acted alone, the boss said.
Brooks, 39, of Milwaukee, had left the scene of the domestic unrest before officers arrived and was not chased by police at the time of the crash, according to the chief, who did not provide further details about the dispute.
Police said they were preparing five charges of premeditated murder against Brooks.
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 driving a woman down with his vehicle.
Sunday provided a joyous scene with marching bands and children dancing in Santa hats and waving pompoms, following in a moment of screaming and the sight of crumpled bodies as the SUV drove through barricades and hit dancers, musicians and others in the community of 72,000.
The dead were identified as four women aged 52 to 79 and an 81-year-old man. Members of a Dancing Grannies club were among those killed, as was a bank employee.
Mayor Shawn Reilly described the parade as a “Norman Rockwell-type” event that “became a nightmare.”
“It looked like dolls were being thrown into the air,” said Nicole Schneiter, who was there with her children and grandchildren. “It took a second to register, like, ‘Is this what we really just saw?’ And then you looked in the road, and there were just people lying on the road. “
At least nine patients, most of them children, were listed in critical condition at two hospitals, and seven others were reported in serious condition.
The chief said that while police were not pursuing Brooks before entering the parade route, an officer fired a shot to try to stop him, but stopped firing because of the danger to others. Brooks was not injured.
Brooks has two open criminal cases in Milwaukee County. In a case filed on November 5, he is charged with resisting or obstructing an officer, ruthless danger, disorderly conduct, bail and battery. Records show that his $ 1,000 cash bond was issued Friday.
In that case, a woman told police that Brooks deliberately drove her over with his vehicle in a gas station parking lot after a fight. She was hospitalized for her injuries.
In the second case, filed in July 2020, Brooks is charged with reckless endangerment and illegal possession of a firearm.
His lawyer in these cases, Joseph Domask, said he did not represent him in the parade.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office said prosecutors’ recommendation for a $ 1,000 bail for Brooks was “inappropriately low,” given the allegations. The DA’s office said it was investigating the matter.
Republican Rebecca Kleefisch, a former Wisconsin lieutenant governor who is running for governor in 2022, called the killings “another inevitable tragedy that occurred because a violent career criminal was allowed to go free and terrorize our society.”
Brooks is an aspiring rapper. On a YouTube page, a video that has since been removed showed him rapping in front of a red Ford SUV similar to the one at the parade. The rapper uses the name MathBoi Fly on his Twitter and other social media accounts.
The horror of the crash was recorded by the city’s livestream and the spectators’ mobile phones. A video shows the moment the SUV broke through the barricades and includes the apparent sound of shots.
“It was like a war scene going through there,” afterwards, said Ken Walter, who had ridden in the parade in a hot air balloon cart pulled on a trailer with his wife and youngest son. “There were those piles of blankets with officers standing over them that you just knew were equal.”
Walter said he saw a red SUV in his eyes and saw it hit a member of his real estate parade contingent and then barrel directly into members of the Waukesha South High Schools marching band.
The SUV continued down the parade route. Behind them screamed, ran, looked for family and friends and were unsure if they were still in danger, he remembered.
Schneiter said that after being in the shelter of a store, she came forward to see corpses on the street along with strollers, chairs, candy and shoes.
Police identified the killers as Virginia Sorenson, 79; LeAnna Owen, 71; Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; and Wilhelm Hospel, 81.
The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies wrote on its Facebook page that its members “did what they loved, performed in front of the crowds in a parade, put smiles on faces of all ages, filled them with joy and happiness.”
Eighteen children ages 3 to 16 were brought to Children’s Wisconsin Hospital, including three sets of siblings, Dr. Amy Drendel, Medical Director of the Emergency Department.
They suffered injuries ranging from scratches on their faces to broken bones and serious head injuries, she said. Six were listed in critical condition.
Waukesha school district canceled classes Monday and Tuesday, saying additional counselors would be present for students and staff. The parade lineup included cheers, dancing and band performances at district schools.
The parade, held every year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. This year’s parade was the 59th.
Waukesha is about 55 miles (90 kilometers) from Kenosha, where Kyle Rittenhouse on Friday was acquitted of all charges of killing two men and wounding a third during riots there in 2020.
Bauer reported from Madison, Wis., And Balsamo reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Doug Glass of Minneapolis, Kathleen Foody of Chicago, Tammy Webber of Fenton, Michigan, Bernard Condon of New York, and Michael Biesecker of Washington contributed.