WAUKESHA, Wis. – An 8-year-old boy became the sixth fatality after a rampaging driver attempted to “strike and hurt as many people as possible” as they celebrated along a Christmas parade route, authorities say.
Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper announced the sixth death in court Tuesday as five counts of first-degree intentional homicide were filed against Darrell Brooks Jr., 39, of Milwaukee. Opper said a sixth homicide charge would also be filed.
Police say Brooks was fleeing a domestic disturbance where a knife was reported when he drove an SUV into the parade route Sunday night, injuring more than 60.
But a criminal complaint presented Brooks’ driving more intentional than might be expected of a fleeing suspect. He plowed into pedestrians despite multiple opportunities to exit the route, according to eyewitnesses cited in the court complaint.
A charge of first-degree intentional homicide carries a mandatory life prison sentence, if convicted. Other charges are likely to follow.
Opper cited Brooks’ long record of convictions and asked for $5 million bail, a request granted by court commissioner Kevin Costello.
Costello said he was disturbed by accounts from officers who said Brooks’ actions at the parade appeared intentional.
“The nature of this offense is shocking,” Costello said. “I’ve not seen anything like this in my very long career.”
The criminal complaint contains a chilling observation from one police officer who watched Brooks pass by several options to exit the parade route, and instead increase his speed:
“At this point, it was clear … that this was an intentional act to strike and hurt as many people as possible,” the complaint said.
A witness told another detective a similar account, the complaint said: “It continued to drive in a zigzag motion. It was like the SUV was trying to avoid vehicles, not people. There was no attempt made by the vehicle to stop, much less slow down.”
Another witness told police he felt it was “a direct intent to hit as many parade participants,” the charges say.
The complaint also details several attempts by police to stop Brooks.
Brooks was free on $1,000 bail posted Friday for another pending case that included an allegation he deliberately hit a woman with his car in early November after a fight. The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office said it launched an internal review of its “inappropriately low” bail recommendation in that case.
Police Chief Dan Thompson said Brooks acted alone, and authorities say there is no evidence he knew anyone in the parade or that his actions were any kind of terrorist attack.
In court Tuesday, Brooks hung his head at the defense table during the hearing. The Associated Press reported he cried as the charges against him were detailed.
As investigators search for answers, here’s what we know:
Donations to aid the victims of Sunday’s fatal parade crash, some of whom were children, poured in Tuesday.
Nearly $900,000 had been raised by Tuesday evening in about two dozen GoFundMe-verified pages for parade victims. Another community fund had grown to more than $900,000 by Tuesday afternoon.
Some of the victims were still fighting for their lives, according to the campaigns.
One child wasn’t aware how severely she was hurt but “but managed to say, ‘just glue me back together,’” family friend Oscar Luna wrote in the GoFundMe page for a girl named Jessalyn. “Only a child could reference themselves as a little doll in this situation.”
Jessalyn lost a kidney, broke her pelvis and has damage to her liver and lungs, Luna said.
Brothers Tucker and Jackson Sparks were among multiple siblings hospitalized after the crash.
Jackson, 8, later died from his injuries according to a Tuesday afternoon update on his verified GoFundMe page. The update was confirmed by his baseball club and his family’s church.
Six children are still in “critical condition,” and total of 13 children are still being treated at Children’s Wisconsin as of Tuesday evening, according to a news release from the hospital.
Loved ones mourned the victims who died. Several of those killed were members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies – who entertained crowds across the area for decades with their pompoms, sense of humor and moxie.
Virginia Sorenson, 79, was remembered as the heart of the group.
Everyone called her Ginny. She had a bad back and a bad hip but loved to dance.
“What did she like about it? Everything,” said her husband of 56 years, David Sorenson. “She liked the instructing. She liked the dancing and the camaraderie of the women. She liked to perform.”
Sorenson, a 19-year veteran of the Dancing Grannies, was near the back of the group holding a banner when she was killed.
Home security video appears to show suspect’s arrest
A home security video appears to show Brooks’ arrest after he approached a resident asking for help, NBC News reported.
Brooks knocked on the resident’s door Sunday about 20 minutes after the crash and told the resident he was homeless and waiting for an Uber.
The resident told NBC News he had been hunting and was unaware of what had happened at the parade. He let Brooks inside, gave him a jacket and sandwich and let him use his phone before seeing police cars drive by, NBC reported.
The man asked Brooks to leave, and as he exited the house, police officers arrived and told him to put his hands up, the resident said. Part of that interaction was captured on the home security video.
Thompson provided few details of the domestic disturbance that happened before Brooks drove through the parade but said there had been a report of a knife and police did not respond to that scene before they went to the parade.
Brooks was freed on $1,000 bail two days before the deadly event, which has drawn scrutiny and renewed calls for giving judges more power to set higher bails.
Brooks was arrested and charged this month after a woman told police he intentionally ran her “over with his vehicle” in the parking lot of a gas station after he followed her there following a fight, according to a criminal complaint.
The $1,000 bail recommended by prosecutors and accepted by the court commissioner in the case was called “inappropriately low” by the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office in a statement Monday.
The bail was not consistent with the office’s approach to cases “involving violent crime, nor was it consistent with the risk assessment of the defendant prior to setting of bail,” the statement read.
Brooks has been charged with crimes 10 times since 1999, including three times in less than two years with recklessly endangering the safety of others. Most recently, Brooks was charged in a domestic abuse incident Nov. 5 when he was also charged with resisting or obstructing an officer.
A cold and windy candlelight vigil Monday night included clergy reciting prayers for those mourning while volunteers handed out candles and hot chocolate.
“We walk that street every day, it’s home, and it just hits really close to home,” said Kim Mischalouski, a Waukesha resident for 30 years. “Tonight was to help me kind of feel better. It’s not there yet, but it’s coming, and I was hoping there was going to be something like this.”
Contributing: Bill Glauber, Sophie Carson, Sarah Volpenhein, Talis Shelbourne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; The Associated Press