An SUV sped through barricades and into a parade of Christmas marchers in suburban Milwaukee on Sunday, killing multiple people as it hit more than 20 adults and children in a horrifying scene captured by the city's livestream and the cellphones of onlookers. Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson said “some” people had been killed but would not give an exact number. A person was in custody, as was the SUV, he said, but he did not give any indication of a motive.
One video shows a woman screaming, “Oh my God!” repeatedly after a group of girls wearing Santa hats and dancing with white pompoms is struck. Another shows the SUV ploughing into members of a marching band, their music replaced with terrified screams.
Fire Chief Steven Howard said 11 adults and 12 children were injured and transported to hospitals by his department. It was unknown how many people were taken to hospitals by others. Children's Hospital of Wisconsin said it received 15 patients from the parade and no reported fatalities as of 8 pm.
A Catholic priest, multiple parishioners and Waukesha Catholic schoolchildren were among those injured, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee spokeswoman Sandra Peterson said.
Police had custody of the vehicle, Thompson said. The investigation was ongoing, with assistance from the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
“What took place in Waukesha today is sickening, and I have every confidence that those responsible will be brought to justice,” tweeted the state's top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Josh Kaul.
As the SUV broke through barricades at the annual parade, a Waukesha police officer fired his gun in an attempt to stop the vehicle, Thompson said. No bystanders were injured and Thompson said he did not know if the driver was struck by the officer's bullets. One video shows the moment the SUV broke through the barricades and the sound of what appears to be 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.
The video of the pompom dancers ends with a group of people tending to one of the girls who is on the ground.
Corey Montiho, a Waukesha school district board member, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his daughter's dance team was hit by the SUV.
“They were pompoms and shoes and spilled hot chocolate everywhere. I had to go from one crumpled body to the other to find my daughter,” he said. “My wife and two daughters were almost hit. Please pray for everybody. Please pray.” One entry in the parade, the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, posted on its Facebook page that “members of the group and volunteers were impacted and we are waiting for word on their conditions.” The group's profile describes them as a “group of grannies that meet once a week to practice routines for summer and winter parades.” Chris Germain, co-owner of the Aspire Dance Center studio, had about 70 girls in the parade ranging from as young as 2 being pulled in wagons to age 18. Germain, whose own 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 came by on foot chasing after, he said. Germain said he jumped out of his own SUV and gathered the girls who were with him.
“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 in a notice on its website that extra counsellors would be on hand for students and staff. The parade's list of entries included cheer, dance and band entries associated with district schools.
Governor Tony Evers said he and his wife, Kathy, were “praying for Waukesha tonight and all the kids, families, and community members affected by this senseless act.” The parade is sponsored by the city's Chamber of Commerce. This year's edition was the 59th of the event that's held each year the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
Waukesha is a western suburb of Milwaukee, and about 55 miles (90 kilometres) north of Kenosha, where Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted Friday of charges stemming from the shooting of three men during unrest in that city in August 2020.