Once again, America is mourning the senseless deaths of innocents — this time the result of a mass killing in a city just west of Milwaukee. And this time, the weapon was a vehicle instead of a gun.
The tragedy at a holiday parade in downtown Waukesha left many stunned and asking why. It started as a joyous celebration with singing, dancing and marching bands. Where can Americans feel safe from harm if schools, churches, concerts, clubs and events like an annual parade can become what one Waukesha official called "a war zone" with five dead and 48 injured?
The suspect has a long criminal history, including two currently open cases in Milwaukee County. Yet he was out of jail and in the position to cause such carnage, even though it was unclear if he had targeted the event, and there was no evidence that he knew anyone in the parade.
The holiday parade is a nearly 60-year tradition in the city. As the festive event began Sunday, a man driving a red SUV ran over barriers and sped through the parade route, mowing down parade participants and revelers along the way. Among the dead were four women and one man ranging in age from 52-81. The injured included toddlers to seniors.
Waukesha police reported that those killed as of early Monday afternoon were Virginia Sorenson, 79, LeAnna Owen, 71, Tamara Durand, 52, Jane Kulich, 52, and Wilhelm Hospel, 81. The victims included members of the "Dancing Grannies,'' a senior dance group that loved performing in the parade.
Officials say the suspect being held in the case is Darrell Brooks, 39. In one Milwaukee County case, filed Nov. 5, he is charged with resisting or obstructing an officer, reckless homicide, disorderly conduct, bail jumping and battery. In that case, according to the Associated Press, a woman told police that Brooks deliberately ran her over with his vehicle.
In the second case, filed in July 2020, he's charged with reckless endangering and illegal possession of a firearm. And now he's likely to face five charges of intentional homicide.
Police investigating Sunday's carnage reached the preliminary conclusion, based on the city's livestream cameras and cellphone video from spectators, that the suspect purposefully ran into the victims. Police believe he was fleeing from a "domestic disturbance" at another location before driving to the parade route.
One widely distributed video shows a young child dancing in the street as the SUV speeds by, barely missing her before hitting others.
"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 parade, held each year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, is sponsored by the city's Chamber of Commerce. This year's theme was "Comfort and Joy," but that will not be what traumatized victims, participants and observers will remember about the horror of the day. And it will put other cities on edge as other holiday celebrations take place between now and the new year.
The victims in Waukesha will need prayers, yes, but also years of healing. That's too often the case in America, where lawlessness leaves too many people feeling unsafe — even at what Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly described as a "Norman Rockwell-type of Christmas parade."