WAUKESHA, Wis.—A red SUV plowed through police barricades and into a local Christmas parade Sunday afternoon, killing five people and injuring more than 40, including children, the city said.
Police have recovered the vehicle and a person of interest is in custody, city police Chief Daniel Thompson said. Names of those killed were being withheld until next of kin notifications could be completed, he said late Sunday. The police were working with the medical examiner to confirm fatalities, he said. The investigation is ongoing.
“It is unclear at this time whether the incident has any nexus to terrorism,” Chief Thompson said.
The number of deaths and those injured might change as additional information is collected, the city said in a
post early Monday. Many people had taken themselves to the hospital after the incident, it said.
The parade started at 4 p.m. Central time in this Milwaukee suburb, and the incident took place about 4:40 p.m., Chief Thompson said.
A law-enforcement official said one possibility that authorities are examining is whether the driver was fleeing from the scene of a crime. The official said there had been an earlier altercation involving a knife.
Kaylee Staral, an intern with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper, was in Waukesha to watch the parade with her mother and stepfather.
She was standing with her family on Main Street along with other families, many with young children who were lined up, two rows deep in some places, watching the parade. About a half-hour into the parade, just after the Waukesha Xtreme Dance team—a middle-school dance group—went by, she heard screaming and saw the SUV come down the street.
She saw the vehicle hit some people, but didn’t remember which group they were part of.
“It all happened so fast,” she said. “It kept going and definitely did not stop.”
People fled into storefronts, she said, and her mother and stepfather ran over to help people.
Soon, a police officer with a radio was close enough that she heard someone say over it that shots had been fired. When her family heard there was gunfire, they left the scene, she said.
Police fired to try to stop the vehicle, which was why bystanders heard gunshots, Chief Thompson said. The FBI’s Milwaukee field office is aware of the incident but local and state authorities are leading the response at this time, an FBI spokesperson said.
Waukesha County Executive
said he had just finished participating in the parade when the incident occurred.
“This is an unspeakable tragedy, affecting us all as we work to overcome an extremely challenging two years and resume our cherished holiday traditions,” Mr. Farrow wrote on Twitter.
All routes into the city’s historic downtown on the Fox River were closed off by emergency vehicles with flashing lights Sunday evening. Downtown residents were directed to park their cars at the site of the farmers market, show ID to officers and remain in their homes until streets are reopened.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee said that one of its priests was among those injured, as well as multiple parishioners and Waukesha Catholic schoolchildren. “Please join us in prayer for all those involved, their families, and those who are traumatized from witnessing the horrible scene,” the archdiocese said in a statement.
Waukesha is a suburb of 70,000 people west of Milwaukee. The Christmas parade is in its 58th year, with participants ranging from stilt walkers and firefighters to politicians and the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, a group of grandmothers who perform choreographed routines, according to the city Chamber of Commerce.
The Dancing Grannies said that some of its members were among those killed, but it didn’t say how many. “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 group said in a Facebook post. “Those who died were extremely passionate Grannies.”
Video circulated on social media almost immediately of the moments leading up to and including the crash, showing dancers and members of marching bands being struck by the SUV, with spectators screaming individual names and rushing in to help the injured. There were pompoms, folding chairs and instruments strewn over the street, according to video footage.
The incident shut down the community.
Nearby Carroll University was locked down. The Waukesha School District canceled Monday’s classes, according to a statement from the district’s superintendent and deputy Sunday evening, adding that the district will have counselors available during the school day for those who need support services.
“At this time, we are working with the police department to more fully comprehend all of the tragic details of this unfortunate event,” the statement said.
Waukesha’s mayor, Shawn Reilly, said at a news conference that his heart went out to “those affected by this senseless act.”
“I am deeply saddened that so many in our community went to a parade, but ended up dealing with injury and heartache,” he said.
Mary Jane Anttila said she was marching in the parade as a member of the Wisconsin Diamond Dancers when the SUV sped past her group. The Diamond Dancers, a group of women who are over 50 years old, were just starting to dance to the third song in their routine.
“That car went by so fast I couldn’t see the person in there at all,” she said.
“We stopped our performance,” she said, as people in her group all wondered what was happening, especially because they hadn’t noticed the vehicle approaching at all until it sped by them from behind.
“He kept going, and all these people were screaming and crying, and we realized he had hit people,” Ms. Anttila said. Soon after, a melee of people, police cars and ambulances flooded the parade.
Corrections & Amplifications
Mary Jane Anttila’s last name was misspelled Antila in one instance in an earlier version of this article. (Corrected on Nov. 22)
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