WAUKESHA, Wisconsin: A speeding SUV ploughed through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Sunday (Nov 21), killing five people and injuring more than 40, including a group of young dancers waving pompoms.
Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson said that a person of interest was in custody, and that the suspect vehicle had been recovered after the incident in the town, about 32km west of Milwaukee.
"At this time, we can confirm that 5 people are deceased and over 40 are injured," the Waukesha Police Department said on its Facebook page. "However, these numbers may change as we collect additional information. Many people have self-transported to area hospitals."
It was not known whether the incident was related to terrorism, but there was no further danger, and an earlier shelter-in-place order in the town of around 72,000 had been lifted, Thompson earlier told reporters.
A video posted online showed a red SUV ploughing at speed through the parade, appearing to run over more than a dozen people before crowds ran from sidewalks to offer assistance.
Thompson said that an officer fired shots at the vehicle and no bystanders were injured. Police did not believe shots had been fired from the vehicle, he added, contrary to earlier reports. Video on social media appeared to show police firing on the vehicle as it crashed through street barriers.
Belen Santamaria, her husband and their three-year-old daughter were planning to join the parade with their Catholic church. But Santamaria, a 39-year-old Mexican factory worker, woke up on Sunday with a backache, so the family watched the procession from the sidewalk instead.
"The SUV came by at full speed," said Santamaria. "Then I started to hear people screaming."
She hid in a restaurant with their daughter while her husband, 39-year-old delivery worker Jesus Ochoa, ran ahead to try to help injured people. He said that he heard through other members of their church that roughly 10 members, mostly Latinos and both adults and children, are injured.
"I was going to be there, walking," Santamaria said. "The SUV would have hit us too."
DANCE GROUPS HIT
A woman told Milwaukee's Fox6 TV station that the SUV hit a dance team of girls aged between nine and 15. She said that the immediate reaction was silence, followed by screaming, running and checking on those injured, Fox6 reported. Video on social media showed small groups surrounding injured girls with white pompoms scattered around.
One witness said the driver also hit a group of "Dancing Grannies" and at least one person flipped over the hood of the SUV, according to Milwaukee's WISN-TV, an ABC affiliate.
"Members of the group and volunteers were impacted and we are waiting for word on their conditions," the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies said on their Facebook page. "Please keep the Grannies, all those injured, and all those who witnessed this horrible event in your thoughts and prayers."
Another witness estimated that the SUV was travelling at about 64kmh when it hit the crowd parading down the street, the TV station said.
"As we were walking back in between the buildings ... we 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 from people who are struck by the vehicle," Angelito Tenorio, an alderman in nearby West Allis, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The local CBS affiliate later showed a picture on Twitter of what appeared to be the red SUV involved with its hood crumpled and front fender hanging off, parked in a driveway.
President Joe Biden was briefed by aides about the events, a White House official said.
"The White House is closely monitoring the situation in Waukesha and our hearts go out to everyone who has been impacted by this terrible incident," the official said.
"We have reached out to state and local officials to offer any support and assistance as needed."
Photos and videos of Waukesha circulating on Twitter showed police cars and ambulances crowding a street decked out with Christmas lights in the aftermath of the incident, which occurred at around 4.39pm (6.39am on Monday, Singapore time). People bundled up against the cold huddled on sidewalks as dusk fell.
The Children's Wisconsin hospital said on Twitter that it had received 15 patients as of 8pm, with no reported fatalities at that time.
Schools would remain closed on Monday for grades 4K to 12, and additional counsellors would be available for students who may need support services, the district superintendent of schools said.