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After SUV slammed into Wis. parade and killed 5, driver to be charged with homicide

The Waukesha Police Department said five people were killed and more than 40 were injured after an SUV ran through a Christmas parade in Wisconsin on Nov. 21. (Video: The Washington Post)

An earlier version of this story quoted Jennifer LaChappelle mourning someone she erroneously believed had died. Tamara Durand was making her debut in the Dancing Grannies when she was killed during the parade. Tamara Rosentreter, also of the Dancing Grannies, was hit during the parade but survived. Rosentreter is a therapist at Rogers Behavioral Health; Durand had no connection to the organization. Paragraphs conveying LaChappelle’s grief have been removed from the story.

WAUKESHA, Wis. — The driver accused of plowing his SUV through a Christmas parade in this suburban Milwaukee city on Sunday will face five counts of intentional homicide, police said Monday, after the crash left five dead, 48 injured and a community reeling in a violent end to a cherished holiday celebration.

Before driving into the crowd, the suspect, Darrell E. Brooks Jr., had been at the scene of an alleged altercation involving a knife, but sped away in the red SUV when police arrived, a law enforcement official said.

Brooks, 39, was allegedly behind the wheel when it drove into the parade route. At a news conference Monday afternoon, authorities said that Brooks, who was arrested Sunday, was the “lone subject” and that he “drove right through the barricades and the officers” at the scene.

Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson identified those killed as Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; LeAnna Owen, 71; Virginia Sorenson, 79; and Wilhelm Hospel, 81.

Four dozen others were injured, including two children who were in critical condition, Thompson said.

The Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office said it expected to file the charges Tuesday afternoon.

Thompson said police are “confident” that the suspect acted alone, and he said there is “no evidence this is a terrorist incident.” Police have “no information that Brooks knew anybody in the parade,” he said.

Officials have not commented on a possible motive. The FBI said it was assisting local authorities in the investigation.

Authorities in Waukesha, Wis., identified five victims who were killed when suspect Darrell Brooks drove through a Christmas parade. (Video: AP)

Brooks had a criminal record that began long before Sunday’s havoc, including charges of domestic abuse, violent behavior and an allegation that he used a vehicle as a weapon weeks before the parade. He had been in jail because of that case, and he was released on bail last week, which has prompted an internal review at the Milwaukee District Attorney’s Office.

The law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the initial stages of the investigation, told The Washington Post that investigators have not found anything tying the parade incident to terrorism or ideology. It appears that the main intent was to escape the police from the prior incident, the official said.

Officials said 22 people were taken by fire crews to six hospitals. Police and bystanders transported others to medical facilities. One hospital said Monday that 18 children, ages 3 to 16, had been brought to its emergency department, some suffering from “serious head injuries.” Ten were admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit, and the patients include three sets of siblings.

“Our community needs to heal from physical injury and emotional trauma and what was taken from us by this senseless act,” Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said during the Monday briefing. “What we do today and in the days ahead is what will define us as a city, and I know we will come together and help Waukesha heal.”

The violence shook the city of 70,000 days before Thanksgiving as residents exulted in their first Christmas parade since 2019, partaking in what Reilly described as a “Norman Rockwell type” of holiday tradition that goes back nearly six decades.

“Last night, that parade became a nightmare,” he said.

Some of the victims were performing with the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, a group of grandmothers with pompoms and sparkly costumes who participate in parades throughout the region.

Beloved ‘Dancing Grannies’ among those killed after driver plows through Wisconsin Christmas parade

Sorenson, a registered nurse and grandmother of six, was a longtime member and the group’s instructor, her husband told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Durand, who watched her grandchild four days a week so her daughter could attend college classes, had recently joined and was dancing in her first parade, according to her husband. Kulich was a mother of three and grandmother of three who was passing out candy and walking alongside a float for the bank where she worked, her husband said.

On the morning after the parade, remnants of the chaos littered the city’s streets. Stray gloves, overturned chairs and wrapped candy were scattered on the grassy parkway where families had gathered to take in the parade, with its “Comfort and Joy” theme. An image from the aftermath showed a jogging stroller, decorated with red and silver tinsel, abandoned and missing a wheel.

Yellow crime tape snapping in the wind was unfurled for blocks past the worst of the destruction. Local and state police officers walked the area, which includes several apartment buildings and residences above the Main Street businesses.

Later Monday evening, a candlelight vigil in frigid temperatures drew hundreds of mourners to a downtown park. Among them was Bob Salb, whose 9-year-old granddaughter belongs to Xtreme Dance Team, a troupe that had at least one member hit by the SUV.

Salb said watching the car barrel into the crowd was like “seeing evil manifested.” His family members scattered into stores, seeking safety. Some carried wounded attendees with them. He said he’s still processing “seeing so many bodies on the ground.”

“The vigil is helping counteract the pure evil,” Salb said.

Mary LaChappelle, 57, and her daughter Jennifer, 23, said they wanted to be at the vigil to hear words of comfort and be with others who were processing grief.

As the LaChappelles held red tapered candles for the vigil, mother and daughter agreed that Sunday’s tragedy makes them reflect on how fragile — and precious — life is.

One day after a driver plowed into a Christmas parade, killing six people, community members in Waukesha, Wis. are processing what happened. (Video: Laura Dyan Kezman, Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

About 20 miles east, at a two-story white frame home in Milwaukee — Brooks’s last known address — no one answered a knock at the door earlier Monday.

Out-of-state rental cars lined the street as reporters and photographers flocked to the residence. A neighbor who declined to be named said that he’d seen a red SUV like the one in the parade footage parked outside the house on occasion but that he didn’t know who drove it or much about who lived at the home.

A person who answered the phone at a number associated with Brooks’s address hung up Monday when a reporter identified herself. It is unclear whether Brooks has an attorney in the Waukesha case, and a lawyer representing him in other cases said he will not do so in this case.

Brooks’s past leading to the parade on Sunday includes run-ins with police and the justice system dating back more than two decades.

His criminal history apparently stretches to at least 1999, when he was charged with battery and later convicted, court records and filings show. Following years brought more cases, including two that apparently remain open against Brooks in Milwaukee, both accusing him of acting violently.

He has pleaded not guilty in both. Joseph Domask, Brooks’s attorney for both cases, declined to comment on them.

The most recent came just weeks before the parade, when Brooks was accused of domestic abuse and using his car as a weapon.

A 31-year-old woman who had a child with Brooks had told authorities that he showed up at her Milwaukee motel on Nov. 2, yelled at her and took her phone before driving off, according to a criminal complaint.

The woman walked toward a gas station and Brooks followed her, the complaint said. After she refused to get in his car, the complaint said, Brooks “struck [her] in the face.”

When the woman walked away, Brooks “ran [her] over with his vehicle” while she was in the parking lot, the complaint said. Officers later said the woman had dried blood on her face, a swollen lip and “tire tracks on her left pants leg,” according to the complaint dated Nov. 5.

Brooks was charged with second-degree recklessly endangering someone’s safety, battery and disorderly conduct. All three counts, the complaint said, were acts of domestic abuse, which can include offenses against someone who had a child with the defendant.

Brooks was booked into the Milwaukee County jail on Nov. 3. He was released on Nov. 16, several days after paying a $1,000 cash bail, walking out five days before the parade.

The office of John Chisholm, the Milwaukee County district attorney, said Monday that it was “conducting an internal review” of the bail recommendation it made in Brooks’s case. That bail recommendation “was inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent charges and the pending charges against Mr. Brooks,” the office said in a statement Monday.

Chisholm’s office did not immediately respond to questions about who decided the bail amount and whether officials were reviewing any other bail recommendations as a result of this case.

Brooks is also facing charges in a pending case from July 2020, when he was charged with two counts of second-degree recklessly endangering someone else’s safety and another count of possessing a gun despite being convicted of a felony.

Court documents describing police officers’ past encounters with Brooks say he was seen in a maroon, 2010 model Ford Escape — a vehicle that matches the description of the car used in the parade crash.

On Sunday in Waukesha, an SUV broke through barricades about 4:40 p.m. local time, about 40 minutes after the event began. Several witnesses described how the festivities turned terrifying in an instant.

Authorities said a police officer shot at the SUV in an attempt to stop it. No bystanders were injured by the gunfire, police said, and they do not think any shots were fired from the vehicle.

Dan Schneiderman, owner of the Vinyl Vault record store, said he was standing at the window when he said he heard “the thud, thud, thud.” It was the car hitting people, a sound he said he’ll never forget.

Dozens of onlookers huddled inside his tiny shop, he said, waiting in silence for the danger to pass.

“There was no conversation. Every single one of them had a look of fear on their face I’ll never forget,” he said. “That was more fear [than] I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. The most scared I’ve ever seen of a human being.”

SUV crash into Wisconsin Christmas parade is latest among deadly car-ramming incidents

First responders would later describe a terrible scene. Some of them were at the parade with their families, Waukesha Fire Chief Steven Howard said, and they left to tend to victims. Others were military veterans, and they compared what they saw on the street to their time in combat.

“Just carnage, likening it to a war zone,” Howard said. “There were adults, children that were injured. … But what stands out in my mind from conversations is we have people with military backgrounds who likened it to a war zone.”

Firozi, Thebault and Devlin Barrett reported from Washington. Holly Bailey and Mark Guarino in Waukesha; Mark Berman, Marisa Iati, Alice Crites and Andrea Salcedo in Washington; Annabelle Timsit and Jennifer Hassan in London; Bryan Pietsch in Seoul; and Rachel Pannett in Sydney contributed to this report.