WAUKESHA, Wis. (NewsNation Now) —With their short skirts, sparkly pompoms, swaying hips and grandchildren in tow, the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies were a marching, dancing holiday fixture in Wisconsin for nearly 40 years.
But tragedy struck the group when as they marched down a street in Waukesha Sunday. An SUV sped through the town’s Christmas parade, killing at least five people and injuring more than 40 others. Three of the victims were part of the group.
Police identified those killed as Virginia Sorenson, 79; LeAnna Owen, 71; Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; and Wilhelm Hospel, 81. Sorenson, Owen and Durand were members the Dancing Grannies club, and Hospel helped out with the group.
“Our group was doing what they loved, performing in front of crowds in a parade,” the group said in a statement Monday morning. “Putting smiles on faces of all ages, filling them with joy and happiness.
An hour before the incident, the Grannies had posted about the parade on their Facebook page.
“Waukesha here we come!!!” the post shouted. “The Grannies are kicking off their holiday parades.”
The Dancing Grannies grew out of an exercise class in 1984, with dozens of women, most ranging in age from their mid-50s to mid-70s, cycling in and out of the group over the years. They have only one requirement: You need to be a grandmother.
Durand was doing her first show with the Grannies on Sunday, said her husband, Dave Durand, who was not at the parade. She’d seen them perform only once before deciding to join – simply because she found joy in dancing.
“She basically danced her way through life,” he said of his wife of eight years, a hospice chaplain and former high school and college cheerleader who was “super excited” for her first performance.
“She was totally energetic and was her happiest when she was dancing,” he said.
Tamara Durand was a mother of three with one grandchild. She babysat her grandson so her daughter could finish nursing school, and volunteered at hospitals and hospices.
“She was an Energizer Bunny,” who ran every morning no matter the weather, Dave Durand said. And she could never pass up sweets, eating “more sugar than a sugar factory.”
Jane Kulich, 52, also died. Local news reports said she worked for a local branch of Citizens Bank, which issued a statement saying an employee “was walking with our parade float” when she was struck and killed. The bank did not identify the employee.
Sorenson, a dance lover who had to give up the hobby years ago after surgery, was the group’s longtime choreographer.
David Sorenson, her husband of nearly 60 years, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about how she loved working with the Grannies.
“What did she like about it? Everything,” Sorenson said. “She liked the instructing. She liked the dancing and the camaraderie of the women. She liked to perform.”
And, he said: “She taught me to do the cancan.”
Hundreds gathered at a downtown park Monday night in Waukesha for a candlelight vigil in honor of those lost and hurt in the deadly parade crash. A pair of clergy solemnly read the names of those who died. Volunteers handed out sandwiches, hot chocolate and candles at the vigil, which was attended by interfaith leaders and elected officials.
The chief said that police weren’t pursuing Brooks before he entered the parade route, but an officer did fire a shot to try to stop him. The officer stopped firing because of the danger to others. Brooks was not injured.
Mayor Shawn Reilly described the parade as a “Norman Rockwell-type” event that “became a nightmare.”