Prosecutors in the US state of Wisconsin have charged a man with intentional homicide in the deaths of five people who were killed he drove an SUV into a Christmas parade on Sunday.
Darrell Brooks Jr on Tuesday was charged with five counts of intentional homicide in relation to the incident in Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb, that left five people dead and injured dozens of others on the weekend.
Prosecutors also said a sixth person, eight-year-old Jackson Sparks, has died and more charges are pending. Jackson was hit by the car alongside his 12-year-old brother who survived.
The city’s livestream video and bystander video captured the chaotic scene as the SUV sped along the parade route and then into the crowd at about 4:39pm (22:39 GMT) on Sunday in Waukesha, about 32km (20 miles) west of Milwaukee.
Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly described the incident as a “horrible tragedy”, telling reporters that it turned a decades-old Christmas parade tradition into a “nightmare”.
“Last night, that parade became a nightmare. Last night, many were severely injured. Last night, lives were lost during the middle of what should have been a celebration … We experienced a horrific tragedy. We have so much healing that needs to occur,” Reilly said earlier this week.
Authorities say at least 62 people, including many children, were injured in the incident, and several remain in critical condition.
On Monday, Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson said officials had no evidence to indicate that the incident was a “terrorist” attack. The suspect “intentionally drove his maroon SUV through barricades into a crowd of people”, Thompson told reporters.
“We have information that the suspect, prior to the incident, was involved in a domestic disturbance – which is just minutes prior – and the suspect left that scene just prior to our arrival to the domestic disturbance.”
Brooks made his first court appearance on Tuesday. He could be heard crying during the proceedings, leaning over with his head nearly in his lap, with his attorney resting a hand on his back.
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.
The complaint said a police officer shot at the vehicle, striking it three times, and a detective stepped in front of Brooks’s vehicle and pounded on the hood and shouted “Stop” several times, but Brooks drove past him. The complaint said the detective was wearing police insignia and a neon orange safety vest.
Brooks had been free on $1,000 bail for a case in Milwaukee County earlier in November in which he is accused of intentionally striking a woman with his car. Prosecutors said they are investigating their bail recommendation in that case, calling it “inappropriately low”.
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.
Conviction on a first-degree intentional homicide charge, which Brooks faces in relation to Sunday’s incident, carries a mandatory life sentence – Wisconsin’s stiffest penalty.
Hundreds gathered at a downtown park on Monday night in Waukesha for a candlelight vigil in honour 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 neighbours. 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 of the Waukesha School District.