Waukesha – The driver of the car that plowed into a Christmas parade in the Midwestern US city of Waukesha, killing five and injuring 48, was apparently fleeing a domestic dispute at the time – and will face charges of intentional homicide, police said on Monday.
Waukesha, Wisconsin police chief Dan Thompson said that suspect Darrell Brooks (39), appeared to be fleeing a domestic disturbance and was not being pursued by police when he drove his red SUV through the city’s annual holiday parade on Sunday.
Four women and one man between the ages of 52 and 81 were killed, and 48 people were hospitalised, Thompson said.
Of those sent to hospitals, 18 were children, according to Dr Amy Drendel, the head of emergency medicine at Children’s Wisconsin hospital.
Two have been discharged, but six remain in ‘critical condition’, Dr Michael Meyer, head of the hospital’s critical care division, said.
Thompson also said there appeared to be no motive for the disaster, other than that Brooks had driven away from some kind of confrontation as police were called to the scene.
He did not confirm reports the confrontation had involved a knife fight.
“We are confident he acted alone. There is no evidence that this was a terrorist incident,” Thompson said of Brooks.
“There was no pursuit that led to this incident,” he added.
In Washington, President Joe Biden offered words of support to a community stunned by a ‘horrific act of violence’, and paid his respects to families ‘facing the fresh grief of a life without a loved one’.
Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly called it a ‘senseless tragedy’ that affected the entire city west of Milwaukee, as it held its nearly six-decade-old parade to kick off the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas holiday season.
“Last night, lives were lost at what should have been a celebration,” Reilly said.
Lost shoes and spilled hot chocolate
The tragedy had raised immediate fears of a deliberate act – in a state where tensions have spiked following a high-profile acquittal in the racially charged trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, a teen who fatally shot two people during Black Lives Matter protests in nearby Kenosha last year.
Brooks is from nearby Milwaukee, where he already faces multiple charges from July 2020 of recklessly endangering the safety of others and firearms violations, as well as from earlier this month for a domestic abuse incident.
Corey Montiho, a school district board member in the Milwaukee suburb, was near a restaurant when he heard that his daughter’s youth dance team had been struck.
“There were pom-poms and shoes and spilled hot chocolate everywhere,” he was quoted as saying by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“I had to go from one crumpled body to the other to find my daughter. My wife and two daughters were almost hit.”
Reilly said the city would hold a prayer vigil this evening, and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers ordered flags across the state lowered to half-staff.
“We continue to pray for the Waukesha community and the kids, loved ones, and neighbours whose lives were forever changed by an unthinkable tragedy last night,” Evers tweeted on Monday.
While police confirmed at least five deaths and 48 injured, there were fears the toll may yet rise, and the city was left in shock.
Witnesses described a terrifying scene on Main Street, where school bands and other groups were marching before bundled-up spectators lining the road.
Sandra Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Milwaukee Catholic church, said one of its priests was injured, ‘as well as multiple parishioners and Waukesha Catholic school children’.
Witness Angela O’Boyle, whose apartment overlooked the parade, told CNN, “All I heard was screaming and then people yelling out their children’s names.”
Schools and city hall remained closed on Monday, and the schools would be closed again on Tuesday, officials said.
Angelito Tenorio, running for Wisconsin state treasurer, told the Journal Sentinel that he ‘saw an SUV cross over, just put the pedal to the metal and just zooming full speed along the parade route’.
“And then we heard a loud bang, and just deafening cries and screams.”