A quaint holiday parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, turned into a Main Street horror show Sunday when a speeding SUV plowed through barricades and into the crowd—hitting dozens of people, and killing at least five.
Members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, a troupe for older women, were among the dead, and 12 children were injured. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee confirmed that one priest, “multiple parishioners, and Waukesha Catholic schoolchildren” were among the injured.
“Today our community faced horror and tragedy at what should have been a community celebration,” Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said at a news conference.
Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson said the “suspect vehicle” was recovered after the carnage and that investigators had a “person of interest” in custody. He did not say whether the driver was deliberately trying to hit people and it said it was unknown if there was a connection to terrorism.
Separately, ABC News reported that police have found no link to extremism, or to the not guilty verdict delivered in Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial in Wisconsin last week. Investigators are also said to be looking into unconfirmed reports that there was a second person inside the SUV as the chaos unfolded.
“Very tragic incident, very chaotic. There are no other threats involved,” Thompson said. “The scene is now safe.”
Video posted to social media showed the red Ford Escape smashing through white barricades and then racing down the road, swerving around some marching band members before plowing into the crowd.
As the air filled with screams, the vehicle continued directly into the parade, running over people and then continuing to drive through as the crowd scattered.
A Waukesha officer with six years on the force fired at the Escape in an attempt to stop it, police said. No one was struck by the bullets.
One video showed young cheerleaders in Santa hats smiling and dancing—then cut to footage of them running to the sidewalk and bystanders huddled over someone on the ground.
“There were pom-poms 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 whose daughter’s dance team was hit, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“My family is safe but many are not. I held one little girl’s head in my hand, she was seizing and she was bleeding out of her ears. I held her mother as she collapsed. Please pray.”
Alderman Angelito Tenorio, who had just finished marching in the 58th annual parade, said he saw the SUV “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 from people who are struck by the vehicle,” he told the Journal Sentinel. “And then we saw people running away or stopping, crying, and there, there are people on the ground who looked like they’d been hit by the vehicle.”
The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies said in a Facebook post that its members who died “were extremely passionate Grannies.”
“Their eyes gleamed…..joy of being a Grannie. They were the glue…..held us together,” the group wrote.
“Our group was doing what they loved, performing in front of crowds in a parade putting smiles on faces of all ages, filling them with joy and happiness,” they added.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued a statement calling the carnage in Waukesha, a suburb of Milwaukee with a population of 70,000, a “senseless act.”
“I’m grateful for the first responders and folks who acted quickly to help, and we are in contact with local partners as we await more information,” he said.
Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow called it “an unspeakable tragedy, affecting us all as we work to overcome an extremely challenging two years and resume our cherished holiday traditions... Keep the families affected in your thoughts as we work to offer whatever support we can.”
Early Monday, Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services urged anyone experiencing emotional distress related to parade to reach out by calling or texting its Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990.
The Children’s Wisconsin Hospital told The Daily Beast that while it was prepared “for a surge of patients,” it received 15 individuals from the incident and had no reported fatalities as of 10 p.m. Sunday night. Advocate Aurora Health in Summit said it also received 12 patients from the incident—and that three of them were in critical condition.
Five other Waukesha-area hospitals received patients from the Sunday incident.