WAUKESHA, Wis. (NewsNation Now) — Authorities in Waukesha, Wisconsin said the SUV driver who plowed through a Christmas parade, killing at least five people and injuring 48, was involved in a domestic disturbance.
Police Chief Dan Thompson said that there was no evidence the bloodshed Sunday was a terrorist attack or that the suspect, Darrell Brooks Jr., knew anyone in the parade. Brooks acted alone, the chief said.
Brooks, 39, of Milwaukee, had left the site of the domestic disturbance before officers arrived, and was not being chased by police at the time of the crash, according to the chief, who gave no further details on the dispute.
Police said they were drawing up five charges of intentional homicide against Brooks.
The suspect 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 running down a woman with his vehicle.
A joyous scene of marching bands and children dancing in Santa hats and waving pompons gave way in an instant Sunday to screams and the sight of crumpled bodies as the SUV sped through barricades and struck dancers, musicians and others in the suburban community of 72,000 located west of Milwaukee.
Mayor Shawn Reilly described the event as a “Norman Rockwell-type of Christmas parade” that “became a nightmare.”
“It looked like dummies being thrown in the air,” said Nicole Schneiter, who was there with her children and grandchildren. “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 (the) road.”
Thompson identified those killed as four women ages 52 to 79 and an 81-year-old man. Members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies troupe were among those killed, as was an employee of Citizens Bank.
At least nine patients — most of them children — were listed in critical condition at two hospitals, and seven others were reported in serious condition.
According to the chief, police were not pursuing the suspect when he entered the parade route, though an officer did fire a shot to try to stop him but ceased firing because of the danger to others. The driver was not injured.
Brooks has two open criminal cases in Milwaukee County. In one case, filed Nov. 5, he is charged with resisting or obstructing an officer, reckless endangering, disorderly conduct, bail jumping and battery. Records show his $1,000 cash bond was posted Friday.
In that case, a woman told police that Brooks deliberately ran her over with his vehicle in a gas station parking lot after a fight. She was hospitalized for her injuries.
In the other case, filed in July 2020, Brooks is charged with reckless endangering and illegal possession of a firearm.
His attorney in those cases, Joseph Domask, said he was not representing Brooks in the parade crash.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office said prosecutors’ $1,000 bail recommendation for Brooks was “inappropriately low” given the charges he faced. The DA’s office said it is investigating the matter.
Brooks is an aspiring rapper. On a YouTube page, a video that has since been removed showed him rapping in front a red Ford SUV, the same color and model of the car that rammed parade participants. 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 onlookers’ cellphones. One video shows the moment the SUV broke through the barricades and includes the apparent sound of gunfire.
One video showed a woman screaming, “Oh my God!” repeatedly as a group of young dancers was struck. A father talked of going “from one crumpled body to the other” in search of his daughter.
Thompson said a Waukesha police officer fired his gun to try to stop the vehicle. No bystanders were injured by the gunfire.
“It was sort of surreal, because I watched it all happen through my phone,” said Angela O’ Boyle, who recorded the parade from her balcony. “It was like I was watching a news article and it was not me filming it, but it was. I can’t even wrap my head around it.”
O’ Boyle told NewsNation‘s Nichole Berlie that she recorded the red SUV barreling down the street, and watched it hit some high school band members and other innocent bystanders. She said the SUV continued down the parade route without stopping, while people were screaming and searching for their loved ones.
“There were no brakes at all,” she said. “I didn’t see brake lights until he hit a stoplight.”
You can watch O’Boyle’s full interview with NewsNation’s Nichole Berlie in the player below.
Chris Germain, co-owner of the Aspire Dance Center studio, had about 70 people in the parade ranging from as young as 2 being pulled in wagons to age 18. Germain, whose 3-year-old daughter was in the parade, said he was driving at the head of their entry when he saw a maroon SUV that “just blazed right past us.” A police officer ran past in chase. Germain said he jumped out of his own SUV and gathered the girls who were with him to safety.
Then he walked forward to see the damage.
“There were small children laying all over the road, there were police officers and EMTs doing CPR on multiple members of the parade,” he said.
Warning: This video is graphic and may be disturbing for some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.
Angelito Tenorio, a West Allis alderman who is running for Wisconsin state treasurer, told The Associated Press that he was watching the parade with his family when they saw the SUV come speeding into the area.
“Then we heard a loud bang,” Tenorio said. “And after that, we just heard deafening cries and screams from the crowd, from the people at the parade. And people started rushing, running away with tears in their eyes, crying.”
Tenorio said he saw about 10 people, children and adults, on the ground who appeared to have been hit by the vehicle.
“It just happened so fast,” he said. “It was pretty horrifying.”
Schneiter said that after sheltering in a store, she emerged to see bodies in the street, along with strollers, chairs, candy and shoes.
Police identified those killed as Virginia Sorenson, 79; LeAnna Owen, 71; Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; and Wilhelm Hospel, 81.
The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies group posted on its Facebook page that its members were “doing what they loved, performing in front of crowds in a parade, putting smiles on faces of all ages, filling them with joy and happiness.”
Eighteen children ages 3 to 16 were brought to Children’s Wisconsin Hospital, including three sets of siblings, said Dr. Amy Drendel, medical director of the emergency department.
They suffered injuries ranging from scrapes on their faces to broken bones and serious head injuries, she said. Six were listed in critical condition.
“What took place in Waukesha today is sickening, and I have every confidence that those responsible will be brought to justice,” Attorney General Josh Kaul, the state’s top law enforcement officer, tweeted.
The Waukesha school district canceled classes Monday and said in a notice on its website that extra counselors would be on hand for students and staff. The parade’s list of entries included cheer, dance and band entries associated with district schools.
This is a developing story. Refresh for updates.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.