Investigators are looking into whether the SUV driver who ploughed through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing at least five people and injuring more than 40, was fleeing from a crime, a US law enforcement official has said.
Marching bands and children in Santa hats waving pompoms were among those taking part in the parade when a vehicle sped through barricades and struck dancers, musicians and others.
One video showed a woman screaming “Oh my God!” repeatedly as a group of young dancers was struck. A father talked of going “from one crumpled body to the other” in search of his daughter. And members of a Dancing Grannies club were among those killed.
Six youngsters at Children’s Wisconsin Hospital remained in a critical condition, and three more were in a serious condition, officials said.
One person was taken into custody after a Waukesha police officer opened fire to try to stop the vehicle, authorities said.
Two law enforcement officials identified the person as 39-year-old Darrell Brooks.
Investigators were questioning him about an earlier crime, which one of the officials described as an argument involving a knife.
Online court records showed a person named Darrell Brooks Jr, with a date of birth making him 39, had two open criminal cases in Milwaukee County.
In one case, filed on November 5, he is charged with resisting or obstructing an officer, second-degree recklessly endangering safety, disorderly conduct, bail jumping and battery. Records show a 1,000 US dollars (£745) bond was posted on Friday. In the other case, filed in July 2020, Brooks is charged with reckless endangering and illegal possession of a firearm.
Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson gave no immediate details about the person in custody or any possible motive.
Mr Thompson said that he did not know if the driver was hit by the officer’s bullets but that no bystanders had been wounded.
On its social media account, the city of Waukesha put the number of dead at at least five.
Eighteen children aged three to 16 were brought to Children’s Wisconsin Hospital, including three sets of siblings, Dr Amy Drendel, medical director of the hospital’s emergency department, said.
They were suffering injuries ranging from scrapes on their faces to broken bones and serious head injuries, with six patients operated on on Sunday night and two more in surgery on Monday, Dr Drendel added.
“This is unique and truly demonstrates the devastating effects of this on our community,” Dr Michael Meyer, head of the hospital’s paediatric intensive care unit, said.
The incident was recorded by the city’s livestream facility and onlookers’ mobile phones. One video shows the moment the SUV broke through the barricades and the sound of what were apparently several gunshots.
Another video shows a young child dancing in the street as the SUV speeds by, just a few feet from her, before it hurtles into parade participants a few hundred feet ahead. One video, of dancers with pompoms, ends with a group of people tending to a girl on the ground.
“There were pompoms and shoes and spilled hot chocolate everywhere. I had to go from one crumpled body to the other to find my daughter,” Corey Montiho told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“My wife and two daughters were almost hit. Please pray for everybody. Please pray.”
The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies posted on their Facebook page that some of their members were among the dead. The organisation describes itself as a “group of grannies that meet once a week to practise routines for summer and winter parades”.
“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,” the post said.
“Those who died were extremely passionate Grannies. Their eyes gleamed … joy of being a Grannie. They were the glue … held us together.”
Chris Germain, co-owner of the Aspire Dance Centre studio, had about 70 people in the parade, including children as young as two being pulled in wagons and participants up to 18-years-old.
Mr Germain, whose three-year-old daughter was in the parade, said he was driving at the head of their entry when he saw a maroon SUV that “just blazed right past us”. A police officer ran past in chase.
Mr Germain said he jumped out of his own SUV and gathered the girls who were with him to safety. He then walked forward to see the damage.
“There were small children laying all over the road. There were police officers and EMTs (emergency medical technicians) doing CPR on multiple members of the parade,” he said.
Angelito Tenorio said he was watching the parade with his family when they saw the SUV come speeding into the area.
“Then we heard a loud bang,” Mr Tenorio said. “And after that, we just heard deafening cries and screams from the crowd, from the people at the parade. And people started rushing, running away with tears in their eyes, crying.”
The Waukesha school district cancelled lessons on Monday and said extra counsellors would be available for students and staff. The parade’s list of participants included cheer, dance and band entries associated with district schools.
Governor Tony Evers said he and his wife were “praying for Waukesha tonight and all the kids, families, and community members affected by this senseless act”.
The parade, held each year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, is sponsored by the city’s Chamber of Commerce. This year’s event, the 59th, had the theme of “comfort and joy”.
Waukesha is a western suburb of Milwaukee, and about 55 miles (90km) north of Kenosha, where Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted on Friday of charges stemming from the fatal shooting of two men and the wounding of a third during unrest in that city in August 2020.