By Brendan O’Brien and Julio-Cesar Chavez
WAUKESHA, Wis. (Reuters) – The motorist suspected of an attack at a traditional Christmas parade that killed five people and injured at least 48 near Milwaukee was set to face criminal charges on Tuesday at his first court appearance since the weekend rampage.
Darrell Brooks, 39, was due in Waukesha County Circuit Court at 4 p.m. CST (2200 GMT) after authorities said he deliberately drove an SUV through police barricades on Sunday and into the city of Waukesha’s annual parade, about 20 miles (32 km) west of Milwaukee.
Waukesha police Chief Daniel Thompson on Monday said his department would refer five counts of first-degree intentional homicide to prosecutors and additional charges could come later as the investigation progresses.
But Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper’s website said on Tuesday that her office was still deciding what charges to bring against Brooks, a Milwaukee resident arrested near the scene of the carnage shortly afterwards.
Police have ruled out terrorism as a motive and said Brooks, who was out on bail from a domestic abuse case, acted alone.
Police were not pursuing Brooks when he drove his car through the parade route, but one officer fired shots to try to stop the sport utility vehicle, Thompson said.
The injured included at least 18 children who suffered facial abrasions, broken bones and serious head injuries and were taken to Wisconsin Children’s hospital in Milwaukee. Six were listed in critical condition, officials said. At least two of the children were since discharged from the hospital.
The five casualties, who ranged in age from 52 to 81, included some members of the “Milwaukee Dancing Grannies” parade group.
“Our hearts are heavy over the loss of our grannies and volunteer,” the group said on Facebook on Tuesday, adding some of the injured members were in stable condition and one has been released from a hospital.
The incident drew the attention of President Joe Biden, who called the attack “horrific,” and Pope Francis. The Vatican sent a condolence message to the Roman Catholic bishop of Milwaukee on Tuesday.
“The pope “commends the souls of those who died to almighty God’s loving mercy and implores the divine gifts of healing and consolation upon the injured and bereaved,” the message said.
At one of several vigils and services on Monday, Jeremy Wittig, 39, an information technology professional, said “Waukesha is strong. That’s why we are out here.”
Video of the incident posted on social media showed a red SUV racing alongside the parade route and then into the procession, appearing to run over more than a dozen people before bystanders raced from sidewalks to help.
“I saw children who were run over,” Brian Hoffman, 33, a Waukesha resident, recounted on Monday. “I am still totally shocked.”
Brooks was last released from custody after posting $1,000 cash bond on Nov. 11, an amount the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office said was “inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent charges” against him.
Brooks had been charged on Nov. 5 with obstructing an officer, battery, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and felony bail jumping in a domestic abuse case, prosecutors and state court records show.
Shortly before Sunday’s attack on the parade, police received a domestic disturbance complaint involving Brooks and a knife, Thompson said.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien and Julio Cesar-Chavez in Waukesha, Wisconsin; Writing by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Howard Goller)