The victims of the Christmas parade were young musicians and dancing grannies

They were grandmothers and grandchildren, members of a group of high school students and husbands, strutting down the main street in a celebration that kicked off the local holiday season for more than a half -century.

After a year of trauma and conflict, members of the Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin appeared to be marching for normality itself on Sunday when a brown SUV roared at them, turning cheers from the crowd into screams of horror.

At least five people were confirmed dead on Monday, with at least 48 people injured, as authorities investigate the tragedy that erupted after it said a man fleeing a knife fight rammed the parade route. At least 18 of those hospitalized were children, including 10 in intensive care.

Three of those killed were members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, a group of women whose pom-pom routines have been a staple of local holiday parades since the 1980s: their choreographer, Virginia Sorenson, 79; LeAnna Owen, 71, dancer; and Tamara Durand, 52, a new member performing for the first time. A fourth was the husband of a dancer, Wilhelm Hospel, 81, and the fifth, Jane Kulich, 52, a cashier at Citizens Bank, walked right behind the group with her companion float.

“She was dynamic, energetic,” said David Durand, 52, of his wife, Tamara, the youngest member of the group.

“She was that kind of person who caught your eye as soon as she walked into the room,” he said. “She literally danced all day.”

In a Facebook post, the group said it was “devastated.”

“Those who died were extremely passionate grannies,” the statement said. “Our group did what they loved, performing in front of the crowd in a parade putting smiles on faces of all ages, filling them with joy and happiness.”

Street videos from the parade showed nine members of the troop, dressed in their iconic blue winter jackets with white fur hats and white pom poms, dancing to the sound of “Jingle Bell Rock.”

Greg Bentz, 52, a childhood friend of Ms Kulich, said the bank employee was handing out candy along the parade route when the SUV struck her. “She had a ton of friends,” he said, describing Ms. Kulich as “vibrant, happy and outgoing”.

“He was an angel,” said his niece, Desiree Kulich, 42. “She always gave back to the community. She was a practitioner – just a very good – person. Ms Kulich’s death devastated her husband and three children, the niece added.

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At a press conference on Monday, Wisconsin Children’s Hospital chief medical officer Dr Michael Gutzeit said 18 children were brought to hospital after the parade, all between the ages of 3 and 16. . The medical director of the hospital’s intensive care unit, Dr Michael Meyer, said 10 of them were in intensive care and six were in critical condition.

“Sunday night’s injuries will go far beyond the physical and will take time to heal,” said Dr Gutzeit.

The victims include three groups of siblings, said Dr Amy Drendel, medical director of the hospital’s emergency defense and trauma center. Their ailments range from facial abrasions and bone fractures to serious head injuries.

Another hospital, Aurora Medical Center-Summit, said in a statement it was treating 13 patients, three of them in critical condition. Officials at Froedtert Hospital said they had received seven patients.

The Waukesha School District canceled classes for several days due to the tragedy. Officials from Team Xtreme Dance, another group that marched, asked for thoughts, prayers and “privacy to deal with the tragic events.” GoFundMe accounts released on behalf of the families of the dance troupe members said at least one child, the daughter of a single mother with five children, had lost a kidney and suffered from a fractured pelvis and a lacerated liver. A photo which organizers said was taken shortly before the crash showed the girls in black outfits with silver and white knit caps and white pom poms.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee said a priest was among the injured, along with parishioners and students at a local Catholic school.

As a freezing twilight fell on Monday, hundreds of people gathered in a nearby park to mourn the victims. “Tonight is the first night to heal our community and we are taking a small step to help those in need,” Mayor Shawn Reilly told the rally. “Tonight I ask for your prayers.”

The tragedy overturned what attendees and onlookers described as a happy night in Waukesha, a dormitory community about 20 miles west of Milwaukee. Last year’s parade was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and this year’s one followed the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse an hour’s drive in Kenosha, in a politically charged case that had left Wisconsin and the nation divided and believed. More than 60 entries, from the fire department to the Waukesha Old Car Club to Santa Claus, were to parade through the city center.

Witnesses described the chaos in the moments after a driver passed through the barricades and headed for the parade; authorities then arrested a suspect they identified as Darrell E. Brooks Jr., 39. Mikey Randa, 14, said he was walking with his high school football team when he saw a young girl hit by the car.

“The car just passed in front of us, there was a lot of panic,” he said, adding that he initially didn’t understand what had happened. Mr. Randa said he then saw five or six bodies lying on the ground.

“I’m still a little bit in shock,” he said.

Jason Kellner, 49, said he had just watched his son, a drummer for the Waukesha South High School Marching Band, pass by when he saw the SUV heading towards the crowd. After driving through an intersection, Kellner said, the car “started to cut people down.”

He said while running to find his son, he saw several apparent victims on the ground and a bloodied saxophone. But he found his son safe and sound by the side of the road.

“I’ve never felt a worse feeling,” Kellner said, “wondering what I’m going to find when I get to my child.”

Brandon Dupre contributed report. Kirsten Noyes, Kitty bennett and Susan C. Beachy contributed research.


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