Wisconsin Christmas parade attack: SUV driver was fleeing ‘domestic disturbance’

Authorities have revealed the suspect in the deadly Christmas parade attack in Waukesha, Wisconsin, was fleeing from police when the rampage took place.

Police have officially named the suspect in the horrific incident as Darrell E Brooks.

The joyous scene of marching bands and children dancing in Santa hats and waving pompoms turned deadly in an instant on Sunday, giving way to screams and scenes of crumpled bodies as the SUV sped through barricades and struck dancers, musicians and others. Members of a “Dancing Grannies” club were among those killed.

Two children remain in a critical condition, with 10 children currently in intensive care – including three sets of siblings.

Speaking at an emotional press conference today, Police Chief Daniel Thompson said authorities believe the 39-year-old suspect acted alone, and had been involved in a “domestic disturbance” just before the rampage.

He said Brooks had “left the scene” of that incident just before police officers arrived, before he “intentionally drove” through the parade route.

But he said there was “no evidence” it had been a terrorist attack, and that police were not pursuing Brooks at the time.

“We have information that the suspect prior to the incident was involved in a domestic disturbance which was just minutes prior and the suspect left that scene just prior to our arrival to that domestic disturbance,” he said.

“When the suspect was driving through and into the crowd, one officer did discharge his firearm and fire shots at the suspect to stop the threat but due to the amount of people, had to stop, stop and fire – not fire any other additional shots.

Chief Thompson said Brooks faced five counts of first-degree homicide.

“At this time, the Waukesha Police Department is referring five counts of first-degree intentional homicide, with additional charges based on the investigation,” he said.

Victims named

Chief Thompson told reporters the ages of those killed in the attack ranged from 52 to 81, and included four women and one man.

Thompson also revealed the identities of the victims this morning.

They include Virginia Sorenson, 79, Leanna Owens, 71, Tamara Durand, 52, James Coolidge, 52, and Wilhem Hospel, 82.

Groups participating in the parade, including the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, the Waukesha Xtreme Dance Team and the Catholic Community of Waukesha, have since issued statements confirming some of their members are among the dead or wounded.

A candlelight vigil will be held for the victims later today in downtown Waukesha.

Suspect on bail an 'amatuer rapper'

Online court records showed a person named Darrell Brooks Jr, with a birthdate making him 39, has two open criminal cases in Milwaukee County.

In one case filed on November 5, he is charged with resisting or obstructing an officer, second-degree recklessly endangering safety, disorderly conduct, bail jumping and battery. Records show $1000 cash bond was posted November 19. Records show $1000 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.

News agencies reported Darrell Brooks Jr, of Milwaukee, was an amateur rapper who goes by the alias MathBoi Fly. A music video on YouTube shows Brooks in front of a Ford SUV, believed to be the vehicle that mowed down dozens of people.

'I had to go from one crumpled body to the other'

The horror was recorded by the city’s livestream and onlookers’ cellphones. One video shows the moment the SUV broke through the barricades and includes the sound of what apparently were several gunshots.

Another video shows a young child dancing in the street as the SUV speeds by, just a few feet from her, before it hurtles into parade participants a few hundred feet ahead. One video, of dancers with pompoms, ends with a group of people tending to a girl on the ground.

“There were pompoms and shoes and spilled hot chocolate everywhere. I had to go from one crumpled body to the other to find my daughter,” Corey Montiho, a Waukesha school district board member, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “My wife and two daughters were almost hit. Please pray for everybody. Please pray.”

The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies posted on its Facebook page that some of its members were among the dead. The organisation describes itself as a “group of grannies that meet once a week to practice routines for summer and winter parades”.

“Our group was 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,” the post said.

“Those who died were extremely passionate grannies. Their eyes gleamed … joy of being a grannie. They were the glue … held us together.”

A Roman Catholic priest, parishioners and Waukesha Catholic schoolchildren were among those injured, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee said.

Chris Germain, co-owner of the Aspire Dance Center studio, had about 70 people in the parade, including children as young as 2 being pulled in wagons and participants up to 18 years old.

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 pursuit. 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.

Angelito Tenorio, a West Allis alderman who is running for Wisconsin state treasurer, said 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.”

The Waukesha school district cancelled classes Monday and said extra counsellors would be on hand for students and staff. The parade’s list of participants included cheer, dance and band entries associated with district schools.

Governor Tony Evers said he and his wife were “praying for Waukesha tonight and all the kids, families, and community members affected by this senseless act”.

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 90km 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.

– additional reporting news.com.au

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