Ahead of a first court appearance by the suspect, friends and family members of approximately 50 people hit by an SUV that sped through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Sunday said they suffered life-threatening injuries, some clinging to life.
A young girl who is a member of a dance troupe struck by the SUV told doctors, “Just glue me back together,” according to a fundraising page organized by a family friend.
The suspect, Darrell Brooks Jr, was due in court on Tuesday, charged with five counts of intentional first-degree homicide.
Police say he had just left the scene of a domestic disturbance that involved a knife. A couple of blocks to the east of where the parade started, police say, he drove past a police squad car and barricade and on to the parade route.
For a short time, the driver sped alongside the marchers in a mostly empty parking lane, narrowly missing people, according to multiple videos and witness accounts. Some on the route wondered aloud what was happening. As police followed in pursuit, their alarm grew.
The SUV approached the core of downtown and its path became more erratic and deadly. The parade was noisy, and most had their backs to the vehicle. They had no warning before the driver started hitting people, sending bodies flying.
Online, 12 verified fundraising pages detail some of the injuries from the incident that left five dead and 48 hurt.
A girl named Jessalyn, whose last name is not given, is shown smiling at the camera on one page, wearing a white Santa hat and holding pompoms. She is standing with other members of the Waukesha Xtreme Dance team in a picture taken moments before she was hit.
Jessalyn is “fighting for her life”, according to the account established by a friend, Oscar Luna. She lost a kidney, broke her pelvis and has damage to her liver and lungs, Luna said.
“This holiday season will be a brutal one for them,” he said of her family.
In an update posted on Tuesday morning, Luna wrote that Jessalyn woke up briefly on Monday.
“She is not fully aware of the severity of her injuries but managed to say, ‘Just glue me back together,”’ he wrote. “Only a child could reference themselves as a little doll in this situation.”
Julia, who was also marching with her dance team and whose last name also isn’t given, “is in the fight for her life” after suffering brain trauma, a fundraising page established by family friend Jen McCarthy says.
“Everyone that knows this little girl knows what joy she brings to the world,” the post says. “She has a heart of gold, a smile that can light up the room and is loved by so many.”
Brothers Tucker and Jackson Sparks were among three sets of siblings hospitalized and remain at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, according to a fundraiser organized by a cousin.
Tucker, 12, has head injuries but is recovering. Jackson, eight, suffered a more serious brain injury and “needs a miracle”, according to Alyssa Albro, the niece of the boys’ parents, Aaron and Sheri Sparks.
“The entire family is devastated,” Albro wrote.
Aidan Laughrin, a senior at Waukesha South High School, was hit while performing with the marching band, suffering fractured ribs, according to a fundraiser. The family is “tough but the road ahead is going to be tough too, both physically and emotionally”, the organizer posted.
Tamara Rosentreter was part of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies when she was struck by the SUV that killed three of her fellow dancers.
The mother of four and grandmother of one was the leader of the troupe, according to a fundraiser. A message from Rosenstreter said “I’m still here. Lots of pain, stitches, broken bones and lots of bumps and bruises. Love you ALL.”
She described how a woman prayed for her “to help give me peace and comfort” and how another kept her warm with a blanket.
“This tragedy is so hard to wrap my head around,” she said, saying her “heart aches” for the victims and their families, those who witnessed the devastation and “for my teammates and their families who are my family”.
Lucero Isabel Perales said several of her family members were struck, including a cousin with skull fractures who was in a coma, an uncle who underwent six hours of surgery for a broken leg and another cousin with bruises all over her body.
“This is a very hard time for all of us, it was something so unexpected,” Perales wrote.
More than $615,000 had been raised by Tuesday, less than 24 hours after most of 12 verified GoFundMe pages were established.