Investigators were on Monday questioning a man after a vehicle ploughed into a Christmas parade in Wisconsin, killing at least five people and injuring more than 40 adults and children.
Several of those killed were believed to be members of a “Dancing Grannies” troupe which was entertaining holiday crowds in Waukesha, a city about 20 miles west of Milwaukee, on Sunday evening.
Teenage girls dancing with a marching band were also hit, witnesses said, when the red sports utility vehicle (SUV) sped through the parade.
A police officer fired at the driver as the vehicle raced away. Authorities later announced that “a person of interest” was taken into custody and the SUV recovered.
On Monday morning, news outlets reported that law enforcement sources believed the driver was fleeing from another crime scene or incident, and that the parade incident was not being investigated as related to domestic or international terrorism.
Additionally, CNN said, sources indicated the incident was not related to Friday’s acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, who was 17 when he killed two men and injured one during anti-racism protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020. Kenosha is about 50 miles south-east of Waukesha.
NBC reported that the individual in the SUV in Waukesha was involved in a knife fight at a nearby park shortly before the incident. Multiple media outlets, citing law enforcement sources, identified the man in custody as 39-year-old Darrell Brooks.
Authorities were planning a press conference for lunchtime on Monday.
On Sunday, the Waukesha police chief, Dan Thompson, told reporters: “Some of the individuals were children and there are some fatalities as a result of this incident.”
Eleven adults and 12 children were taken to hospital, Thompson said, while others made their own way there. Thompson declined to give details about the casualties until families were notified.
However, a Facebook post on Monday by the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies troupe indicated that some of its members were killed.
“Those who died were extremely passionate Grannies. Their eyes gleamed … joy of being a Grannie. They were the glue … held us together,” the post said.
“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.”
Witnesses described terrifying scenes as the Ford SUV burst through barricades at about 4.40pm on Sunday and entered the parade route, speeding towards the performers, which included school bands and groups of dancing children. One said the driver appeared to be swerving from side to side, apparently targeting those marching.
Corey Montiho, a member of the Waukesha school board, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the driver hit his daughter’s dance team, a troupe of girls aged nine to 15 performing with white pom-poms and wearing Santa hats.
“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,” he said. “My wife and two daughters were almost hit. Please pray for everybody. Please pray.”
Montiho said he made eye contact with the man driving the vehicle, the Washington Post reported. He described him as “calm and composed”.
“I saw bodies and kids and dads not breathing,” he said.
Tony Evers, the Wisconsin governor, ordered flags at half mast.
“Kathy and I are praying for Waukesha tonight and all the kids, families and community members affected by this senseless act,” Evers said.
“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.”
The White House said Joe Biden was receiving updates.
The city of Waukesha announced a community fund to “support the needs of the families impacted by [the] tragic incident at the Christmas parade”.
A number of videos of the incident were posted to social media, which investigators were looking at. One showed a young child dancing in the street as the SUV speeds by, just a few feet away, before it hurtles into participants a few hundred feet ahead.
Another, showing the young dancers with pom-poms, ends with a group tending to a girl on the ground. A third captures a police officer firing at the SUV. Thompson said nobody was hit by those shots.
“Today our community faced horror and tragedy in what should have been a community celebration,” said the Waukesha mayor, Shawn Reilly.
“I’m deeply saddened to know that so many in our community went to a parade but ended up dealing with injury and heartache.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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