By Joe Sutton, Keith Allen, Travis Caldwell, Holly Yan and Amir Vera, CNN
Authorities in Wisconsin have identified the driver of a red SUV who they say intentionally drove his SUV through barricades and into a crowd celebrating the Waukesha Christmas parade.
Darrell E. Brooks Jr., 39, is believed to have acted alone Sunday and is the only suspect, Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson said Monday. Brooks faces five counts of first-degree intentional homicide, with additional charges based on the investigation, Thompson said.
Brooks had been released from jail less than two weeks ago in a domestic abuse case, on a $1,000 bail that prosecutors recommended and now say was “inappropriately low.”
Brooks will have his initial court appearance at 4 p.m. CT Tuesday at which initial charges will be filed, according to a statement from the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office. The hearing will be available via livestream for the public to view.
“We are working closely with the City of Waukesha Police Department to review the matter and decide what criminal charges will be issued,” read the statement.
Thompson said Brooks was involved in a domestic disturbance with another person just prior to driving his SUV through the parade Sunday afternoon. Police were not able to respond to the initial call about the domestic incident because they had to respond to the parade so quickly after receiving the call, the chief said.
Police stressed there was no police pursuit leading up to the incident.
Thompson said there is no information that Brooks knew anyone in the parade.
Five people were killed in the incident. They ranged from age 52 to 81 years old, Thompson said.
The city identified the victims as:
- Virginia Sorenson, 79
- LeAnna Owen, 71
- Tamara Durand, 52
- Jane Kulich, 52
- Wilhelm Hospel, 81
The police chief acknowledged the heroism of onlookers at the scene, saying first responders and residents worked together to triage the victims and get them as stable as possible.
He said officers and citizens took victims to the hospital in their personal vehicles.
At least 18 children were hospitalized after the parade, said Children’s Wisconsin, a pediatric hospital in nearby Milwaukee.
Thompson said the incident is not a terrorist event. The crash also does not appear to be connected to the recent verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, according to multiple law enforcement sources familiar with preliminary investigation findings.
Suspect had been released on bail from earlier incident, DA says
Brooks was released on $1,000 bail earlier this month, according to court records and the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, which said in a statement that the bail had been set “inappropriately low.”
Brooks posted the bail on November 11 in relation to charges including domestic abuse. The charges stemmed from a November 2 incident in which Brooks is accused of running over a woman with his car while she was walking through a gas station parking lot, according to a criminal complaint.
“Officers observed tire tracks on her left pants leg,” the criminal complaint read.
Prosecutors filed five charges related to the incident including: obstructing an officer, second-degree recklessly endangering safety with domestic abuse assessments, disorderly conduct with domestic abuse assessments and misdemeanor battery with domestic abuse assessments.
Brooks was also charged with bail jumping, because he was already out on bail following a July 24, 2020, incident, according to court documents.
In a statement, the Milwaukee DA’s office now says it should not have recommended such a low bail for Brooks and have launched an internal review into the decision.
“The State’s bail recommendation in this case was inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent charges and the pending charges against Mr. Brooks,” the office’s statement said. “The bail recommendation in this case is not consistent with the approach of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office toward matters involving violent crime, nor was it consistent with the risk assessment of the defendant prior to setting of bail.”
CNN reached out to Brooks’ attorney from the 2020 and earlier November 2021 incident about the DA’s statement, but has not yet received a response.
With the 2020 incident, Brooks is accused of firing a handgun during an argument, according to a charging complaint. While arresting Brooks, authorities say they found a stolen handgun and three “multicolored pills,” which later tested “presumptively positive” for methamphetamines.
Brooks was charged with two counts of second-degree reckless endangering safety while using of a dangerous weapon and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon.
Bail had initially been set at $10,000 in that case but because Brooks had asked for a speedy jury trial, which could not be met, bail was reduced to $500. Brooks was released on bail in that case on February 21, according to the district attorney’s office.
Brooks has an outstanding arrest warrant in Nevada in an unrelated case for which he was arrested and jumped bail, authorities said. CNN has reached out to a previous attorney for Brooks with no response.
Authorities in Nevada issued an active warrant on Brooks on August 15, 2016, for jumping bail, according to Sarah Johns, Washoe County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson. Johns said detectives later determined Brooks was in Wisconsin. “However, detectives did not have viable intelligence on Brooks’ exact location.”
How the disaster unfolded
Families, including children in strollers, bundled up in the chilly wind and lined the parade route on Main Street.
The city’s live stream of the parade showed a marching band had just started playing “Jingle Bells” when a red SUV barreled into the parade from behind. Onlookers shrieked in horror.
Another video captured by a paradegoer showed a young girl in a pink coat and hat dancing in the street as the SUV sped by, missing her by just a few feet.
Another witness, Nathan Bryce, captured video of the SUV plowing through barricades.
On Monday morning, the belongings of paradegoers were still strewn across the scene as authorities try to confirm what led up to the calamity.
“This is still a very fluid investigation,” the chief told reporters Sunday night. He said children are among the injured.
A Waukesha police officer opened fire to try to stop the driver, and no bystanders were struck by the officer’s gunfire, the chief said. Thompson added he doesn’t believe any shots were fired from the vehicle.
“The scene is now safe and secure,” Thompson said.
Victims include Milwaukee Dancing Grannies members
Authorities have not released any details of the five people killed, but the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies said some members of the group were among the victims.
“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 dance troupe posted on Facebook.
“Those who died were extremely passionate Grannies,” the group said.
“Our hearts are heavy at this most difficult time, as more information and updates become available it will be posted. Please keep them their families, friends, the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies and everyone who lives have forever changed in your thoughts and prayer.”
Taylor Smith said her mother, Jane Kulich, 52, was representing her employer — Citizens Bank — at the parade when she was fatally struck.
“She was an amazing mom and grandma. Everyone loved her,” Smith told CNN. Kulich is survived by her three children and three grandchildren.
In a Facebook post, Smith wrote: “My mom was killed last night. We are told she didn’t suffer.”
At least several of the injured were in critical condition
Aurora Medical Center-Summit, a hospital in Waukesha County, said it was treating 13 patients as of Sunday night: three listed in critical condition, four in serious condition and six in fair condition.
Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee — the only Level I trauma center in southeast Wisconsin — said it was also treating patients from the parade incident but is not providing a specific number nor conditions. Level I trauma centers typically care for the most critically ill patients.
The 18 children hospitalized at Children’s Wisconsin had injuries ranging from “facial abrasions to broken bones to serious head injuries,” said Dr. Amy Drendel, medical director of Children’s Wisconsin Emergency Department and Trauma Center.
The children’s ages range from 3 to 16, and those hospitalized include three sets of siblings, Drendel said.
‘It hit at least two people right away and rolled over them’
A video obtained by CNN shows the moment the vehicle struck pedestrians. A red SUV is seen hitting a person in a marching band. Then the vehicle continues forward, hitting and running over others in the band and crowd before driving away.
Angela O’Boyle, who lives in an apartment on the fifth floor which overlooks the parade route, told CNN she was on the balcony watching the festivities.
“The next thing I heard were screams, and turned my head and saw the car come and plow into the band that was just past my balcony at that point,” she said.
“It hit at least two people right away and rolled over them. And then continued down the road to People’s Park which is at the end of the block — and then kept going, it didn’t stop.”
Boyle said she heard screaming and people yelling out their children’s names, adding “it was not something that I wanted to see … a little freaked out.”
Kaylee Staral, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel intern who witnessed the incident, said “probably around 20 to 30 minutes into the parade, a red SUV came running down the middle of the street — there were a lot of screams — and we almost thought maybe it was Santa, but it was a red SUV and it hit a lot of people.”
Staral went on to say “there were multiple people on the ground.”
“Right in front of me in the little spot where I was sitting, probably four people were down, so there were a lot of people that ran to go check on them,” Staral said. “I believe that the four people in front of me were still breathing but they were down, they were not moving.”
Schools closed as a community mourns
Flags are to be flown at half-staff at “all buildings, grounds and military installations” statewide, Gov. Tony Evers said Monday.
“Today, I’ve ordered the U.S. and Wisconsin flags to be flown at half-staff as we continue to pray for the Waukesha community and the kids, loved ones, and neighbors whose lives were forever changed by an unthinkable tragedy last night,” the governor tweeted.
The school district of Waukesha said it canceled classes on Monday and will determine whether classes will resume Tuesday.
“The District will have additional counselors available during the school day at all buildings for all students that may be in need of support services,” school officials said in a statement.
The White House is in touch with state and local officials, according to a White House official, and President Joe Biden has been briefed.
“The White House is closely monitoring the situation in Waukesha and our hearts go out to everyone who has been impacted by this terrible incident,” the official said. “We have reached out to state and local officials to offer any support and assistance as needed.”
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CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz, Evan Perez, Claudia Dominguez, Justin Lear, Kay Jones, Alaa Elassar, Natasha Chen, Caroll Alvarado, Andy Rose, Arlette Saenz and Conor Powell contributed to this report.