A driver ploughed a vehicle into crowds at a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Sunday evening, killing five and injuring more than 40 adults and children, including some from dance troupes and marching bands.
In what the Waukesha police chief, Dan Thompson, called a “tragic incident”, a red sport SUV drove at speed into crowds in the city about 20 miles west of Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon.
Eleven adults and 12 children were taken to hospital, Thompson said, declining to give more details until families were notified. He did not comment on a possible motive.
“Some of the individuals were children and there are some fatalities as a result of this incident,” Thompson said. “We’re working with the families, that is our priority in this tragic incident.”
The investigation was still “very fluid”, he said, and he did not know if the incident was terror-related. One person of interest was in custody and the vehicle involved had been recovered.
On Monday morning, CNN reported that “multiple sources” in law enforcement 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, the sources indicated the incident was not related to last 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.
Eyewitnesses estimated the car was travelling at around 40mph. The SUV “bombed through” and was “going from side to side, targeting people”, witness Tyler Kotlarek said, according to the New York Times.
In one video posted on social media on Sunday night, a red SUV appeared to speed toward marchers. In a second video, police opened fire on the same vehicle as it crashed through barriers.
Another post appeared to show the car driving into a group of teenage girls dancing with white pompoms and wearing Santa hats. Another appeared to show the SUV hitting members of a marching band.
Corey Montiho, a Waukesha school district board member, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel his daughter’s dance team was hit.
“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 driver, the Washington Post reported. He described him as “calm and composed”.
“I saw bodies and kids and dads not breathing,” he said.
Michele Johnson wrote on the City of Waukesha Facebook page: “It was horrifying! The car drove past us and saw bodies flying. People screaming. It felt like feet from where our family was sitting.”
Police opened fire on the vehicle to try to stop it, Thompson said, quashing reports that someone in the vehicle opened fire. A police advisory to “shelter in place” was issued and Carroll University went into lockdown. The threat was later declared over.
Some of the injured were taken by police to hospital and others were taken by family members. The Children’s Wisconsin hospital said on Twitter it had received 15 patients as of 8pm, with no reported fatalities at that time.
Public schools would be closed on Monday and roads would remain closed for at least another 24 hours, authorities said.
One witness said the driver hit a group called the “Dancing Grannies”. At least one person flipped over the hood of the SUV, according to WISN-TV, an ABC affiliate.
“Members of the group and volunteers were impacted and we are waiting for word on their conditions,” the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies said on their Facebook page. “Please keep the Grannies, all those injured, and all those who witnessed this horrible event in your thoughts and prayers.”
Photos and videos of Waukesha circulating on Twitter showed police cars and ambulances crowding a street decked with Christmas lights.
Writing on Facebook, another eyewitness, Lindsay Eckert, said: “This happened right behind my dance team, the SUV drove past us going about 50-60mph. I saw people get hit and it was terrible. Everyone is devastated.”
Angelito Tenorio, a local alderman running for Wisconsin state treasurer, said he was at the parade with his family when he saw the red SUV approach.
“We saw an SUV crossover, just put the pedal to the metal and just zooming full speed along the parade route,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We heard a loud bang, and just deafening cries and screams from people who are struck by the vehicle.
“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.”