WISCONSIN: Debris litters the street at a crime scene in Waukesha, Wisconsin.- AFP

WISCONSIN: Americans were reeling yesterday from an “unthinkable tragedy” after a driver slammed through barricades and into a Christmas parade in the Midwestern city of Waukesha, killing at least five and wounding more than 40. The Sunday evening chaos which saw a red SUV speed into a crowd of men, women and children, raised immediate fears of a deliberate act – in a state where tensions have spiked following a high-profile acquittal in a racially-charged trial.

But CNN and NBC both cited law enforcement sources as saying there was no known connection to terrorism at this stage – nor to Friday’s verdict in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager who fatally shot two people during Black Lives Matter protests in nearby Kenosha last year. Multiple US media quoted investigators as saying there were signs the driver was fleeing another incident at the time. Police said a “person of interest” was taken into custody, the vehicle recovered, and that there were no other threats to the community.

Citing law enforcement officials, NBC identified the man as Darrell Brooks, a 39-year-old from Wisconsin, saying he was being questioned but had not yet been charged with a crime, nor named as a suspect. Corey Montiho, a school district board member in the Milwaukee suburb, was near a restaurant when he heard that his daughter’s youth dance team had been struck. “There were pom-poms and shoes and spilled hot chocolate everywhere,” he was quoted as saying by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“I had to go from one crumpled body to the other to find my daughter. My wife and two daughters were almost hit.” Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly called it a “horrible and senseless” act, while Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers ordered flags across the state lowered to half-staff. “We continue to pray for the Waukesha community and the kids, loved ones, and neighbors whose lives were forever changed by an unthinkable tragedy last night,” Evers tweeted yesterday.

‘Deafening cries’
President Joe Biden has been briefed and the White House was closely monitoring the situation in Waukesha, an administration official said. “Our hearts go out to everyone who has been impacted by this terrible incident,” the official said. While police confirmed five deaths and at least 40 injured, there were fears the toll may yet rise, and the community was left in shock.

Witnesses described an appalling scene on Main Street, where school bands and other groups were marching before bundled up spectators lining the road. Sandra Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Milwaukee Catholic church, said one of its priests was injured, “as well as multiple parishioners and Waukesha Catholic school children.” Witness Angela O’Boyle, whose apartment overlooked the parade in the Milwaukee suburb, told CNN: “All I heard was screaming and then people yelling out their children’s names.”

A total of 11 adults and 12 children were taken to six area hospitals, Fire Chief Steven Howard said. During the incident an officer fired at the SUV in an attempt to stop it, authorities added. Schools and city hall remained closed yesterday, as did some roads while the investigation continued. Angelito Tenorio, running for Wisconsin state treasurer, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he “saw an SUV cross over, just put the pedal to the metal and just zooming full speed along the parade route.” “And then we heard a loud bang, and just deafening cries and screams.” – AFP