The 58th annual Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Sunday was the first time Tamara Durand ever performed with the beloved troupe known as the Dancing Grannies.
But what was supposed to be a festive rite of passage ended in tragedy for the 52-year-old and dozens of others after a red SUV plowed through barricades and into the crowd. Durand, who had worked as a hospice and critical-care chaplain at Waukesha Memorial Hospital and once saved a homeless man from drowning in the Wisconsin River, was among at least five people killed in the chaos. At least 48 others were injured, including more than a dozen children.
“She was super energetic, she was that type of person who when she walks in the room, everybody notices her smile,” Durand’s husband, Dave, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview on Monday. “She literally danced her way through life. She was the youngest one in the Dancing Grannies. Dancing was her favorite thing. It was her first time ever with them, which is what’s so tragic, too.”
The Waukesha Police Department confirmed Monday that Darrell Brooks, a 39-year-old sex offender who recently posted bail on reckless-endangerment charges, has been arrested as the lone suspect in the SUV attack. Waukesha Chief Daniel Thompson said Monday that the carnage unfolded just minutes after Brooks was involved “in a domestic disturbance.”
Brooks is now set to face several counts for the shocking incident that also killed Virginia “Ginny” Sorenson, 79; LeAnna Owen, 71; Jane Kulich, 52; and 81-year-old Wilhelm Hospel.
In addition to the five victims, scores of parade patrons were injured in the attack—including at least 18 children. Among them were members of the Waukesha Xtreme Dance Team, who performed at the parade. A GoFundMe campaign for one of the young dancers directly hit by the SUV, Jessalyn, said she was “fighting for her life” as of Monday morning.
“She in is [sic] ICU on high oxygen, lost a kidney, broken pelvic, liver lacerations, lung damage, tachycardia, and many blood transfusions,” the verified campaign said. “Prayers, hope and faith are being called upon right this minute!”
The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies confirmed to The Daily Beast that in addition to Durand, Sorenson and Owen were members of the amateur dance troupe that has been a fixture in local parades for almost 40 years. CBS58 reported that Hospel’s wife was also a member of the group—and that he volunteered to help.
“Those who died were extremely passionate Grannies,” the group said in a statement on Monday. “Their eyes gleamed …. joy of being a Grannie. They were the glue … held us together.”
Virginia Sorenson’s husband told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his wife of over five decades was an instructor and choreographer for the Grannies. David Sorenson added that the registered nurse and 19-year veteran of the group was near the back of the gathering holding a banner when Brooks drove into the road.
“What did she like about it? Everything,” he told the paper, adding that he was also helping out at the event. “She liked the instructing. She liked the dancing and the camaraderie of the women. She liked to perform.”
But Durand, who met his future wife back when they were in high school, wasn’t at the Sunday parade alongside his brother and a few of his nieces and nephews. When he found out about the crash, he “just rushed out” to get to the site as quickly as possible.
“They had already sealed everything off and we couldn’t really get in,” he told The Daily Beast.
The grief was still fresh, he added, and the funeral arrangements are in limbo for the mother of three.
“Unfortunately, because it’s a crime scene, they need to do an autopsy,” Durand said. “I identified her body last night, so we’re on hold.”