At least five people were killed and another 40 injured on Sunday after an SUV crashed through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wis., according to the local police chief.
A statement from the City of Waukesha posted to its Facebook account said the police already have “the person of interest in custody.” Due to the seriousness of the crash, the number of victims may also change as they collect additional information.
“The community mourns the loss of our community members and those injured. We are asking for the community to come together during this time and to keep the families in your prayers,” reads the statement.
In a press conference immediately following the events, Waukesha Police Chief Daniel Thompson said “some” fatalities occurred, but did not specify the ages or names as police are currently working on reaching families.
“The vehicle struck more than 20 individuals. Some of the individuals were children and there are some fatalities as a result of this incident,” Thompson said.
While police have a person of interest in custody and the suspect vehicle has been located, Thompson did not disclose any potential motives. He did note the investigation is ongoing with help from the Wisconsin Department of Justice and it is not clear whether it was an act of terrorism.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press they are investigating the possibility of the suspect fleeing a previous crime before crashing into the parade. Investigators were questioning someone in custody about a knife-related incident.
Waukesha Fire Department Chief Steven Howard said his staff transported 11 adults and 12 children to six area hospitals, but it is unknown how many were transported by others.
“Many people have self-transported to area hospitals,” reads a statement from the city of Waukesha.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin said it received 15 patients from the parade and no reported fatalities as of 8 p.m. Sunday.
A shelter-in-place order has now been lifted, according to police.
“The scene is now safe and secure,” Thompson said. Waukesha is about 31 km west of Milwaukee.
Thompson said the incident occurred at 4:39 p.m. as a red SUV crashed through the barricades blocking the parade marching down the city’s main street.
As the vehicle sped through the crowd, witnesses caught the act on video posted to social media, which showed a marching band with dozens of players and a dance troupe of young girls being hit from behind.
Video also caught an officer shooting at the vehicle in an attempt to stop it after it crashed through a barricade. Police did not say whether the driver was hit but said no bystanders were injured from the discharge.
“Today we experienced a horrible, senseless tragedy,” Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said.
He marched in the parade and recalled the smiling children’s faces.
“I am deeply saddened to know so many in our community went to a parade but ended up dealing with injury and heartache,” he said.
“My heart goes out to all affected by this senseless act.”
Corey Montiho, a Waukesha school district board member, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his daughter’s dance team was hit by the SUV.
“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.”
One entry in the parade, the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, posted on Facebook that members of the group were “impacted.”
“We are waiting for work on their conditions,” the post read.
Co-owner of Aspire Dance Center studio, Chris Germain, said he had about 70 girls in the parade, ranging in age from two to 18 years old.
He said he was driving at the head of their entry when he saw the SUV “blaze right past us” and then an officer following on foot.
“There were small children laying all over the road, there were police officers and EMTs doing CPR on multiple members of the parade,” he said.
Angelito Tenorio, a West Allis alderman who is running for Wisconsin state treasurer, said that he was watching the parade with his family when they saw the SUV come speeding into the area.
“Then we heard a loud bang,” 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.”
Tenorio said he saw about 10 people, both children and adults, on the ground.
“It just happened so fast,” he said. “It was pretty horrifying.”
Another witness estimated the SUV was going about 64 km/h when it hit the crowd of people, with at least one going over the hood, according to WISN-TV, an ABC affiliate.
The parade has been held every Sunday before Thanksgiving for the last 59 years.
Wisconsin’s top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Josh Kaul, called the events “sickening” in a tweet.
“I have every confidence that those responsible will be brought to justice,” he said.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers tweeted Sunday that he and his wife are “praying for Waukesha tonight and all the kids, families, and community members affected by this senseless act.”
“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.”
More to come
— With files from Reuters and the Associated Press
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