A holiday parade in Waukesha, Wis., turned to horror after a driver in a red SUV tore through the crowd Sunday evening. The city stated that five people have been confirmed dead and more than 40 people were injured after the SUV collided with parade marchers.
Children were among those struck by the car, according to Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson. In all, 11 adults and 12 pediatric patients were transported to six hospitals in the area, Fire Chief Steven Howard said.
Children’s Wisconsin, a health care system operating two hospitals in the state, said it took in 15 patients as of 8 p.m. “with no reported fatalities at our hospital at that time.”
Authorities gave no further specifics about the people who were killed or injured as they work to notify family members of the victims.
According to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, one of its Catholic priests, multiple parishioners and Waukesha Catholic schoolchildren were among those injured.
“Please join us in prayer for all those involved, their families, and those who are traumatized from witnessing the horrible scene,” Archdiocese spokesperson Sandra Peterson said in a statement Sunday night.
Details emerge about who was hit
The 58th annual Waukesha Christmas Parade was underway when the vehicle drove through barricades and sped through the parade route at around 4:39 p.m.
Videos of the collision shared in the hours after the tragedy and brief statements issued by groups participating in the parade gave an idea of who some of the victims were.
Police have not yet confirmed the identities of those who were killed or injured.
NPR screenshot/City of Waukesha Facebook page
But groups such as Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, Waukesha Xtreme Dance and the Catholic Community of Waukesha issued statements saying members of their groups who were marching in the parade were impacted.
Those organizations were all marching near each other in the parade lineup.
In the parade, that group was followed by members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, a dance troupe made up of women in their early 50s thru mid-70s. According to the website, the only requirement for membership is to be a grandmother.
The group shared on Facebook that “members of the group and volunteers were impacted and we are waiting for word on their conditions. Please keep the Grannies, all those injured, and all those who witnessed this horrible event in your thoughts and prayers.”
Waukesha Xtreme Dance, a group made up of children 2 years of age through eighth grade, was farther down the parade lineup. The organization asked the public on its Facebook page to keep its members in their thoughts and prayers. The group also requested “time and privacy to process the tragic events.”
Students with the Waukesha School District also participated in the parade, and school marching bands were listed in the parade lineup. The Marching Blackshirts of Waukesha South High School were marching not far behind the other groups in the area the SUV drove into.
Officials for South High School and the district forwarded the districtwide press release when NPR asked for a comment early Monday. The district announced that classes were canceled Monday. The district’s website said officials would have additional counselors available for all students and staff in need of those services.
Catholic Memorial High School, another local school, also canceled classes Monday.
Police share few details on the person of interest
Police Chief Thompson said the suspected vehicle has been recovered and there was a “person of interest” in custody, but did not specify whether that was the driver. He said it was not known if there was any “nexus to terrorism.”
The FBI is assisting in the investigation, the agency’s Milwaukee division said.
There are no other threats and the scene is safe, the police chief said.
Videos across social media show a red SUV blowing through low-level barricades and speeding away. A law enforcement officer can be seen in the video and appears to open fire at the vehicle.
A police officer tried to stop the driver by firing his gun at the vehicle, confirmed Thompson, but no bystanders were injured. “We do not believe there was any shots fired from the vehicle,” said the police chief.
Waukesha resident Lindsey Ashley, 36, said she was enjoying the parade with her two children, ages 7 and 9, when the SUV drove by them.
“The SUV blazed by where we were sitting and we heard a crash and people screaming,” she told NPR. “I grabbed the kids and took off. People were helping ‘escort’ others to safety.”
She said her two children were horrified and never want to attend another parade.
Tailyr Medrano, who also lives in Waukesha, said she had her 1-year-old son in her arms when she said she witnessed the car plow through the procession “right in front of us.” She brought her toddler to the parade so he could see Santa for the first time, she told NPR over Facebook messenger.
“[I]nstead he sees a red suv running over people that are suppose to be entertaining us and children on the ground bleeding,” she wrote.
She’s “shaken up,” but safe, she said.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers thanked first responders and others who jumped in to help, and said the state is in touch with local partners to stay abreast of the latest information.
“Kathy and I are praying for Waukesha tonight and all the kids, families, and community members affected by this senseless act,” he tweeted.
The community starts to come together
The city announced that Main Street, along which the collision occurred, will remain closed until at least midday Monday. Businesses along this strip will also be closed.
As the investigation continues, the city asked for “the community to come together during this time and to keep the families in your prayers.”
When the area is open, the city is also requesting that any items set aside for a temporary memorial be placed at Veterans Park.
On Sunday night, the Catholic Community of Waukesha held a prayer service for victims of the tragedy.
Catholic Memorial High School is also hosting a combined community prayer service Monday afternoon.
This is a breaking news story. Some things reported by the media may later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.