Prosecutors in Wisconsin on Tuesday charged a man with intentional homicide in the deaths of five people who were killed when an SUV was driven into a Christmas parade that also left 62 people injured, including many children. Prosecutors said a sixth person, a child, has died and more charges are pending.
Darrell Brooks Jr. was charged with five counts of intentional homicide in the crash Sunday in Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb. Conviction on first-degree intentional homicide carries a mandatory life sentence, Wisconsin’s stiffest penalty. An 8-year-old boy, Jackson Sparks, died on Tuesday, according to his GoFundMe page. He was walking in the parade along with his brother, who is still hospitalized. The other five people who were killed were adults.
“This afternoon, our dear Jackson has sadly succumbed to his injuries and passed away,” the page’s organizer, Alyssa Albro, wrote.
Brooks made his initial appearance in court Tuesday. He could be heard crying during the proceeding, leaning over with his head nearly in his lap, with his attorney resting a hand on his back.
The city’s livestream video and bystander video captured the chaotic scene when an SUV sped along the parade route and then into the crowd. Several of those injured remain in critical condition.
According to the criminal complaint, witnesses told police that the vehicle “appeared to be intentionally moving side to side,” with no attempt to slow down or stop as it struck multiple people and sent bodies and objects flying.
A detective — wearing police insignia and a neon orange safety vest — stepped in front of Brooks’ vehicle and pounded on the hood, shouting “Stop,” several times but Brooks drove past him, according to the complaint.
A uniformed police officer who saw Brooks’ SUV traveling toward the parade route also tried to get his attention, yelling “Stop, stop the vehicle” several times but was ignored, according to the complaint. Brooks braked at one point, but instead of turning away from the parade route, he turned into the crowd and appeared to rapidly accelerate, the complaint said.
Another police officer shot at the vehicle, striking it three times as it entered the parade route.
Brooks had been free on $1,000 bail for a case in Milwaukee County earlier in November in which he’s accused of intentionally striking a woman with his car. Prosecutors said they’re investigating their bail recommendation in that case, calling it inappropriately low.
Cash bail on the latest charges is set at $5 million, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 14 at 9:15 a.m.
Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson said Brooks, 39, was leaving the scene of a domestic dispute that had taken place just minutes earlier when he drove into the parade route.
“We have a gentleman that has a huge background, via multiple states,” said Waukesha Court Commissioner Kevin Costello.
Brooks has been charged with crimes more than a dozen times since 1999 and had two outstanding cases against him at the time of the parade disaster. That included resisting or obstructing an officer, reckless endangering, disorderly conduct, bail jumping and battery for the Nov. 2 incident.
Some Republicans were quick to jump on the case as an example of a broken legal system.
Republican Rebecca Kleefisch, a former Wisconsin lieutenant governor who is running for governor in 2022, called the killings “yet another avoidable tragedy that occurred because a violent career criminal was allowed to walk free and terrorize our community.”
And Republican state Rep. Cindi Duchow said she was reintroducing a constitutional amendment that would change the bail process in Wisconsin to allow judges to consider a defendant’s danger to the community when setting bail. Judges currently are only allowed to consider the possibility that defendants might not show up for a court appearance when setting bail.
“He tried to run over his girlfriend with his car — that’s attempted murder,” Duchow said. “If you’re a danger to society, you should have to work hard to get out.”
Thompson, the police chief, said that there was no evidence the bloodshed Sunday was a terrorist attack or that Brooks knew anyone in the parade. Brooks acted alone, the chief said.
NBC News published doorbell camera footage that appeared to capture Brooks’ arrest. It showed Brooks, shivering in just a T-shirt, knocking on a homeowner’s door and asking for help calling for a ride. Moments later, police surrounded the house and shouted, “Hands up!” Brooks, standing on the porch, held up his hands and said, “Whoa whoa whoa!”
Hundreds gathered at a downtown park Monday night in Waukesha, Wisconsin, for a candlelight vigil in honor of those lost and hurt. A pair of clergy solemnly read the names of those who died. Volunteers handed out sandwiches, hot chocolate and candles at the vigil, which was attended by interfaith leaders and elected officials.
“We are parents. We are neighbors. We are hurting. We are angry. We are sad. We are confused. We are thankful. We are all in this together. We are Waukesha Strong,” said a tearful Amanda Medina Roddy with the Waukesha school district.
Mayor Shawn Reilly described the parade as a “Norman Rockwell-type” event that “became a nightmare.”