Waukesha Parade Vigil
Photos of 52-year-old Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy, Jane Kulich, sit affixed to a memorial cross, surrounded my candles and flowers. A mother of three, and grandmother to another three, Kulich was handing out candy for her employer, Citizens Bank, when she was struck and killed by a reckless driver who careened down the parade route on Sunday. (Photo by Cara Spoto)

Six people are now confirmed to have been killed by a reckless driver who mowed down parade goers, including an 8-year-old boy who succumbed to his injuries on Tuesday afternoon.

The day after a reckless driver plowed through marchers at Waukesha’s annual Christmas parade—killing six people and injuring 62—hundreds of residents packed into a downtown park Monday night to pray and reflect. 

Vigil goers held candles and gathered tightly in stocking caps and heavy coats. Some were there to pray for a loved one impacted by the incident, others as a sign of community support. 

As Pardeep Singh Kaleka, executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee—whose own father was killed in the 2012 Sikh Temple shooting in Oak Creek—offered an interfaith prayer, attendees bowed their heads in silence. 

“God in all things, God in all people, we pray for all those who have suffered, and continue to suffer right now,” Kaleka said.  “Those who saw and experienced unimaginable tragedy and hurt last night, and those who have lost people, please keep them in your mercy. Those that are struggling and holding on to life inside of our hospitals and critical care units, please keep them in your grace. Those that are gathered here tonight, breathing in your light and collectively praying right now, please keep them in your compassion.” 

Deacon Mike Finley, spiritual advisor to Waukesha County’s St. Vincent De Paul Society, urged those asking where God was last night to look to the helpers—to the people who rushed onto the scene to help before “even knowing what was going on” or “if there would be more” carnage to come. 

“I’m not even talking about the first responders—clearly God was with them—but our citizens who came to help,” Finley said. “God was with the people of Waukesha last night, and God is with us now. God is right here. I can feel the Lord with us.” 

Mourning Those Lost

As the vigil ended and the crowds dispersed, loved ones of the five adults killed gathered around memorial crosses made for each of the victims. They included the family and friends of Jane Kulich, a 52-year-old mother of three and grandmother of three, who was struck while walking the parade route as representative for Citizens Bank. Her two youngest children are still in high school. 

Greg Bentz, a childhood friend of Kulich, called Kulich one of the best friends you could possibly have. 

“She was there for me when my sister passed away, and when my mom passed away. And she was always there for her kids and grandkids. That’s just how Jane was,” Bentz said. 

The three other women killed in the collision—79-year-old Virginia Sorenson, 71-year-old LeAnna Owen, and 52-year-old Tamara Durand—were members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies. 

The lone adult male victim,  Wilhelm Hospel, 81, was the husband of another Dancing Grannie who was injured, but not killed in the collision.

A young man signs a cross for 52-year-old Jane Kulich on Monday evening, one of five adults killed in Waukesha’s Christmas Parade tragedy on Sunday. Hundreds of people gathered at the downtown Waukesha park for a vigil to pray for those impacted by the event. (Photo by Cara Spoto)

“I am heartbroken to share [that] my Uncle Bill was one of the victims of the parade massacre in Waukesha, WI,” wrote Hospel’s niece, ​​Sonja Hospel Leonard, in a Monday Facebook post. “My Aunt Lola was one of the Dancing Grannies. She was injured as well, but will be physically ok. Uncle Bill was the youngest of four brothers, all of whom live in the Milwaukee area.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the organizer of a GoFundMe page for brothers Tucker and Jackson Sparks—one of three sets of siblings hospitalized after being struck by the SUV—posted that Jackson had succumbed to his injuries.

Tucker, 12, has head injuries but is recovering, and Jackson, 8, had suffered a more serious brain injury and needed “a miracle,” according to Alyssa Albro, the niece of the boys’ parents, Aaron and Sheri Sparks.

The morning after the vigil, Pope Francis sent his condolences to the victims and said he was praying for “spiritual strength which triumphs over violence and overcomes evil with good.”

Darrell E. Brooks, 39, of Milwaukee, has been charged with five counts of intentional first-degree homicide in connection with the incident. Waukesha Police Chief Daniel Thompson said Brooks was fleeing the scene of another domestic incident when he burst into the parade route. 

The Injured

At least 48 people were treated at area hospitals as a result of Sunday’s incident, Waukesha Fire Chief Steve Howard said Monday. Children’s Wisconsin said Monday was treating 18 child victims. Of the 16 patients admitted to the hospital, ten remained in the intensive care unit on Tuesday afternoon—six in critical condition, three in serious condition, and one in fair condition. The eight other children not in the ICU were in fair condition, the hospital said on Monday. Two children had been discharged, according to Dr. Michael Meyer, medical director for the pediatric ICU.

The child victims ranged in age from 3-16, according to Dr. Amy Drendel, medical director for Children’s Wisconsin’s emergency department and trauma center. Injuries ranged from facial abrasions to broken bones and serious head injuries, Drendel said.

Jessalyn Konhke, a member of the Waukesha Xtreme Dance Team is another such child with severe injuries. According to a fundraiser set up by a family friend, Kohnke lost a kidney, broke her pelvis and has damage to her liver and lungs.

Adult victims were transported to six area hospitals, and as of Tuesday many of those victims had been released. Ann Dee Allen, spokesperson for ProHealth Care, said ProHealth Waukesha Memorial had one parade victim in stable condition after discharging three others on Monday night. 

Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Health Network received and treated seven patients from the incident, and most of those patients have been discharged, said Nalissa Wienke, senior media relations specialist for the hospital.

“Our hearts go out to all the victims and those affected by the terrible tragedy in Waukesha last night,”  Wienke said. “We are grateful to the first responders and emergency care teams who assisted in quickly transporting and treating the victims of this senseless violence.”

Reckoning and Healing

Monday night’s vigil followed an almost woozy day of reflection in the tight-knit Milwaukee suburb of just over 72,000. As residents muddled through their days or sat worrying about loved ones, City Hall closed its doors to everyone except for media members and officials, as city staff, law enforcement, and elected leaders prepared for a press conference attended by media outlets from across the country.

Waukesha’s normally busy historic downtown was shrouded in police tape Monday morning as squad cars blocked the intersections leading to Main Street and reporters from a host of TV stations, including one crew from a French media company, shot footage of empty streets, leftover candy, and forgotten lawn chairs.

Waukesha residents Brian and Stephanie Shaw, who weren’t at the parade, brought their two sons, Jackson and Jacob, ages 8 and 7, to leave a bouquet of flowers at a designated memorial spot at Veterans Park at the end of Main Street. Brian Shaw said the family had heard from friends and neighbors who had been at the popular annual event and had recounted stories of the terrible scene.

“While some people are waiting to see the reason for all of it to happen, it’s just unfortunate that a tragedy had to happen at all,” Brian Shaw said.

Flowers and religious mementos sit against a makeshift memorial at Waukesha’s Veterans Park on Monday. (Photo by Cara Spoto)

Among those leaving flowers at the memorial Monday afternoon was US Rep. Bryan Steil, (R-Janesville). 

“It’s just a punch in the gut to think that this could happen here, or even anywhere, ” said Steil, whose district covers part of Waukesha County but sits just to the west of the city itself. “You know Waukesha. It’s a family-centered, know-your-neighbor kind of place. … It is going to take a while to come back from this … but in a great tragedy we also saw of the people in our community who truly are heroes.”

Waukesha public schools remained closed on Tuesday ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, but counselors remained available to talk to students, staff, and families who knew those impacted by the tragedy. Among those injured were Waukesha South High School marching band members. 

Courtney Stangl, board president for the youth and family grief counseling nonprofit Healing Hearts of Southeastern Wisconsin, and the director of St. Luke’s Child Life Ministries, said representatives from Healing Hearts were out passing out flyers after the vigil, encouraging anyone who wanted to talk to attend their Monday evening support sessions. 

“We just walked around and found people who had children, and every single person we talked to just started pouring out their story to us, cried, hugged us, and hugged the information to their chest like it was a lifeline,” Stangl said. “We can focus on the tragedy and the pain, or we can accept it, acknowledge it, and try to find the good. … When you looked around last night, it was everybody supporting everybody. It didn’t matter your political beliefs, it didn’t matter your religion. Nothing mattered except ‘‘we are a community and we are here to support each other.’”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.