WAUKESHA, Wis. (NewsNation Now) — A joyous scene of marching bands and children dancing in Santa hats turned deadly as witnesses describe the horrifying moments after an SUV sped through a Wisconsin parade killing at least five people and injuring more than 40 others.
“It was horrific. I’ve never been part of anything like that,” said Sandra Hollander, who was walking in the parade. “We are just speechless … a holiday tradition that is meant to bring unity and joy to the community has been painted like this.”
Hollander said she was near the end of the Waukesha Christmas parade Sunday evening when she heard loud honking. After a moment, the parade tried to continue but authorities quickly shut it down as reports of injuries circulated throughout the crowd. As she tried to leave, Hollander said she saw people lying still on the ground.
“Before we started the parade, we could see all the families walking through the parade and kids smiling or full of excitement. And the contrast is just —” Hollander said briefly becoming speechless. “I’m just waking up to see now that there are five people dead which we didn’t know that last night before I went to bed.”
The horror was recorded by the city’s livestream and onlookers’ cellphones. One video shows the moment the SUV broke through the barricades and the sound of what appears to be several gunshots. Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson said a Waukesha police officer fired his gun to try to stop the vehicle. No bystanders were injured by the gunfire, and Thompson said he did not know if the driver was struck by the officer’s bullets.
Angelito Tenorio, a nearby alderman who is running for Wisconsin state treasurer, said he was watching the parade with his family when they saw the SUV come speeding through.
“It all happened so fast. I remember the band playing the music. And then I remember hearing the vehicle revving up,” Tenorio said. “I remember that loud banging, and then the cries and screams and then people just running away with tears in their eyes, sobbing parents calling out names, looking for their children.”
Investigators are examining whether the SUV’s driver may have been fleeing from a crime when he crashed into the paradegoers, a law enforcement official briefed on the matter told The Associated Press. The investigators were questioning the person in custody about that incident, which the official described as an altercation involving a knife. The investigation was ongoing.
“It was absolute chaos. It was truly horrific. Folks were running away, fleeing away from the scene,” Tenorio said. “And when the crowd cleared out, that’s when I saw what looked like people lying in the middle of the street, lying lifeless on the ground.”
The parade, held each year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, is sponsored by the city’s Chamber of Commerce. This year’s, the 59th, had the theme of “comfort and joy.” Hollander said the tight-knit community was reeling in the aftermath, saying it was one of the worst things to ever happen in the community.
“No one should be checked marking themselves safe from a Christmas parade, like they were doing on Facebook,” Hollander said. “No one should be doing that. That’s not the type of event we should be marking ourselves safe from.”
Waukesha is a western suburb of Milwaukee, and about 55 miles north of Kenosha, where Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted Friday of charges stemming from the shooting of three men during unrest in that city in August 2020.