Hours after a car rammed into a holiday parade in Wisconsin, turning the triumphant return of the annual Christmas event into chaos, tributes began pouring in for the five people killed.
Four of the victims in the Sunday night incident in the city of Waukesha were affiliated with the “Milwaukee Dancing Grannies” a dance troupe composed of local grandmothers that has been a mainstay of Wisconsin holiday parades for nearly 40 years.
Three of those killed – Ginny Sorenson, 79, LeAnna Owen, 71, and Tamara Durand, 52 – were members, while Wilhelm Hospel, 81, helped the group, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The fifth victim, Jane Kulich, 52, worked at Citizens Bank, according to local media. Her Facebook page included posts about the birth of a granddaughter, as well as pictures of family, nature and cats.
Shortly before the attack, the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies excitedly announced on Facebook they were “kicking off their holiday parades”.
“Waukesha here we come!!!” the post said.
After the mayhem, the group released a statement, saying the victims were “doing what they loved, performing in front of crowds in a parade”.
“Putting smiles on faces of all ages, filling them with joy and happiness,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, the local branch of the Citizens Bank issued a statement saying an employee “was walking with our parade float” when she was struck and killed.
On Monday night, hundreds gathered at the crash site to hold a candlelight vigil and remember the victims, who died after a man identified by police as Darrell Brooks, 39, ploughed an SUV into the crowd gathered at the parade.
“Last night, was a tragedy no community should ever have to experience. Last night, our children were terrified when they should’ve been laughing,” Mayor Shawn Reilly told those gathered. “Last night, many of our friends were gravely injured when they should’ve been standing shoulder-to-shoulder with friends and neighbours.”
Authorities said 48 others were injured in the attack, including six children who remained hospitalised in critical condition.
Brooks, who was out on bail after being charged in a previous domestic abuse case, faces five counts of first-degree homicide for the ramming.
Police had received reports of a domestic dispute involving Brooks prior to the incident on Sunday, but did not immediately know what triggered the attack. They ruled out “terrorism”.
‘Danced her way through life’
Dave Durand, whose wife Tamara was fatally struck, told The Associated Press news agency the mother of three and grandmother of one was attending her first parade with the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies on Sunday.
“She basically danced her way through life,” he said of his wife of eight years, adding she was “super excited” for her first performance with the group.
“She was totally energetic and was her happiest when she was dancing.”
David Sorenson, whose wife of nearly 60 years had been the group’s choreographer, said Ginny Sorenson had cherished the time spent with the troupe.
“What did she like about it? Everything,” her husband told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “She liked the instructing. She liked the dancing and the camaraderie of the women. She liked to perform.”
He added: “She taught me to do the cancan.”
Meanwhile, an online fundraiser for Kulich’s family described her as a “loving, beautiful and charismatic mother, grandmother and friend to so many”.
“The world is a much darker place without a woman like this in the world,” the GoFundMe page said.