WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — The SUV driver who plowed into a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing at least five people and injuring 48, was leaving the scene of a domestic dispute that had taken place just minutes earlier, Waukesha’s police chief said Monday.
Police Chief Dan Thompson said that there was no evidence the bloodshed on Sunday was a terrorist attack or that the suspect, Darrell Brooks Jr., knew anyone in the parade. Brooks acted alone, the chief said.
Brooks had left the scene of the domestic disturbance before officers arrived, and he was not being chased by police at the time of the crash, according to the chief.
Police were drawing up five charges of intentional homicide against Brooks, 39, of Milwaukee, Thompson said.
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 running down a woman with his vehicle.
A joyous scene of marching bands and children dancing in Santa hats and waving pompoms 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 community of 72,000 people.
Members of a “Dancing Grannies” club were among those killed, as was a bank employee. The police chief identified the dead as four women ages 52 to 79 and an 81-year-old man.
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 road.”
At least nine patients — most of them children — were listed in critical condition Monday at two hospitals, and seven others were reported in serious condition.
The chief said that while police were not pursuing Brooks before he entered the parade route, an officer did fire a shot to try to stop him but ceased firing because of the danger to others. Brooks 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 $1,000 cash bond was posted on Friday.
In the other case, filed in July 2020, Brooks is charged with reckless endangering and illegal possession of a firearm.
In the more recent one, 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.
His attorney in those cases, Joseph Domask, said he was not representing him in the parade incident.
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 resembling the one at the parade. The rapper uses the name MathBoi Fly on his Twitter and other social media accounts.
The horror was recorded by the city’s livestream and onlookers' cellphones. One video shows the moment the SUV broke through the barricades at high speed and includes the apparent sound of several gunshots.
“It was like a war scene walking through there,” said Ken Walter, who had been riding in the parade in a hot air balloon basket along with his wife and youngest son. “There were these piles of blankets with cops standing over them that you just knew were bodies.”
Walter said he saw a red SUV careen into view and watched it hit a member of his real estate-agency parade contingent, then barrel straight into members of the Waukesha South High School marching band.
The SUV continued down the parade route. Behind it, people were screaming, running, searching for family and friends and unsure whether they were still in danger, he recalled.
“It was like everything went into slow motion, and I couldn’t hear anything,” Walter said.
Schneiter said after sheltering in a store, she emerged to see bodies in the street, along with strollers, chairs, candy, random shoes. “Just stuff everywhere,” she said. “You can’t believe that really happened. It felt like we were in a movie or something. It just felt crazy.”
The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies 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.”
“Those who died were extremely passionate Grannies. Their eyes gleamed ... joy of being a Grannie. They were the glue ... held us together," the organization said.
A Roman Catholic priest, parishioners and Waukesha Catholic schoolchildren were among those injured, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee said.
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.
“This is unique and truly demonstrates the devastating effects of this on our community,” said Dr. Michael Meyer, head of the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit.
At the White House, President Joe Biden said that “we don’t have all the facts and details yet” but that his administration was closely monitoring the situation.
The Waukesha school district canceled classes Monday and Tuesday and said extra counselors would be on hand for students and staff. The parade’s lineup included cheer, dance and band entries associated with district schools.
The parade, held each year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, is sponsored by the city’s Chamber of Commerce. This year’s event, the 59th, had the theme of “comfort and joy.”
Waukesha is a western suburb of Milwaukee, and about 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of Kenosha, where Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted Friday of charges stemming from the fatal shooting of two men and the wounding of a third during unrest in that city in August 2020.