People light candles at a makeshift memorial along the route of the parade on W Main Street in Waukesha, Wisconsin on November 22, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

Waukesha, Wisconsin: The driver accused of ploughing his SUV through a Christmas parade in this suburban Milwaukee city on Sunday will face five counts of intentional homicide, police said on Monday, after the crash left five dead, 48 injured and a community reeling in a violent end to a cherished holiday celebration.

Before driving into the crowd, the suspect, Darrell E. Brooks Jr., had been at the scene of an alleged altercation involving a knife, but sped away in the red SUV when police arrived, a law enforcement official said.

Brooks, 39, was allegedly behind the wheel when it drove into the parade route. At a news conference on Monday afternoon, authorities said that Brooks was the “lone subject” and that he “drove right through the barricades and the officers” at the scene.

Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson identified those killed as Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; LeAnna Owen, 71; Virginia Sorenson, 79; and Wilhelm Hospel, 81.

Four dozen others were injured, including two children who were in critical condition, Thompson said.

The Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office said it expected to file the charges on Tuesday afternoon.

Thompson said police are “confident” that the suspect acted alone, and he said there is “no evidence this is a terrorist incident.” Police have “no information that Brooks knew anybody in the parade,” he said.

Officials have not commented on a possible motive. The FBI said it was assisting local authorities in the investigation.

Brooks had a criminal record that began long before Sunday’s havoc, including charges of domestic abuse, violent behavior and an allegation that he used a vehicle as a weapon weeks before the parade. He had been in jail because of that case, and he was released on bail last week, which has prompted an internal review at the Milwaukee District Attorney’s Office.

The law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the initial stages of the investigation, told The Washington Post that investigators have not found anything tying the parade incident to terrorism or ideology. It appears that the main intent was to escape the police from the prior incident, the official said.

Officials said 22 people were taken by fire crews to six hospitals. Police and bystanders transported others to medical facilities. One hospital said Monday that 18 children, ages 3 to 16, had been brought to its emergency department, some suffering from “serious head injuries.” Ten were admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit, and the patients include three sets of siblings.

“Our community needs to heal from physical injury and emotional trauma and what was taken from us by this senseless act,” Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said during the Monday briefing. “What we do today and in the days ahead is what will define us as a city, and I know we will come together and help Waukesha heal.”

‘Parade became a nightmare’

The violence shook the city of 70,000 days before Thanksgiving as residents exulted in their first Christmas parade since 2019, partaking in what Reilly described as a “Norman Rockwell type” of holiday tradition that goes back nearly six decades.

“Last night, that parade became a nightmare,” he said.

Some of the victims were performing with the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, a group of grandmothers with pompoms and sparkly costumes who participate in parades throughout the region.

Brooks’s past leading to the parade on Sunday includes run-ins with police and the justice system dating back more than two decades.

His criminal history apparently stretches to at least 1999, when he was charged with battery and later convicted, court records and filings show. Following years brought more cases, including two that apparently remain open against Brooks in Milwaukee, both accusing him of acting violently.

He has pleaded not guilty in both. Joseph Domask, Brooks’s attorney for both cases, declined to comment on them.

The most recent came just weeks before the parade, when Brooks was accused of domestic abuse and using his car as a weapon.

A 31-year-old woman who had a child with Brooks had told authorities that he showed up at her Milwaukee motel on November 2, yelled at her and took her phone before driving off, according to a criminal complaint.

The woman walked toward a gas station and Brooks followed her, the complaint said. After she refused to get in his car, the complaint said, Brooks “struck [her] in the face.”

When the woman walked away, Brooks “ran [her] over with his vehicle” while she was in the parking lot, the complaint said. Officers later said the woman had dried blood on her face, a swollen lip and “tire tracks on her left pants leg,” according to the complaint dated November 5.

Brooks was charged with second-degree recklessly endangering someone’s safety, battery and disorderly conduct. All three counts, the complaint said, were acts of domestic abuse, which can include offenses against someone who had a child with the defendant.

Brooks was booked into the Milwaukee County jail on November 3. He was released on November 16, several days after paying a $1,000 cash bail, walking out five days before the parade.

The office of John Chisholm, the Milwaukee County district attorney, said Monday that it was “conducting an internal review” of the bail recommendation it made in Brooks’s case. That bail recommendation “was inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent charges and the pending charges against Mr. Brooks,” the office said in a statement Monday.

Chisholm’s office did not immediately respond to questions about who decided the bail amount and whether officials were reviewing any other bail recommendations as a result of this case.

Brooks is also facing charges in a pending case from July 2020, when he was charged with two counts of second-degree recklessly endangering someone else’s safety and another count of possessing a gun despite being convicted of a felony.

Court documents describing police officers’ past encounters with Brooks say he was seen in a maroon, 2010 model Ford Escape - a vehicle that matches the description of the car used in the parade crash.

On Sunday in Waukesha, an SUV broke through barricades about 4:40 p.m. local time, about 40 minutes after the event began. Several witnesses described how the festivities turned terrifying in an instant.

Authorities said a police officer shot at the SUV in an attempt to stop it. No bystanders were injured by the gunfire, police said, and they do not think any shots were fired from the vehicle.

Dan Schneiderman, owner of the Vinyl Vault record store, said he was standing at the window when he said he heard “the thud, thud, thud.” It was the car hitting people, a sound he said he’ll never forget.

Dozens of onlookers huddled inside his tiny shop, he said, waiting in silence for the danger to pass.

“There was no conversation. Every single one of them had a look of fear on their face I’ll never forget,” he said. “That was more fear [than] I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. The most scared I’ve ever seen of a human being.”

First responders would later describe a terrible scene. Some of them were at the parade with their families, Waukesha Fire Chief Steven Howard said, and they left to tend to victims. Others were military veterans, and they compared what they saw on the street to their time in combat.

“Just carnage, likening it to a war zone,” Howard said. “There were adults, children that were injured. . . . But what stands out in my mind from conversations is we have people with military backgrounds who likened it to a war zone.”