(Trends Wide) — Police reported “some deaths” after more than 20 people, including children, were struck by a vehicle that was thrown into a crowd during a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Police Chief Daniel P. Thompson said in a press conference.
Authorities are working with the Waukesha County Medical Examiner’s Office to confirm the identities of the deceased, Thompson said. No further information about the deaths will be released while the police notify their loved ones.
“This is the most important thing, the families in this tragic event, and making sure that the relatives are notified,” he continued. “That is our priority in this tragic incident.”
Authorities reported that 11 adults and 12 minors were transported to area hospitals by ambulances and officers after a red van passed through the Waukesha Christmas Parade, Thompson said.
A police officer who has been with the department for more than six years fired his gun at the suspect’s vehicle in an attempt to stop him, according to Thompson.
“No passerby was injured by the firing of the gun,” he said.
A ‘person of interest’ in custody per incident in Waukesha
A suspect’s vehicle has been recovered and a “person of interest” is in custody, the chief added. There is no active threat in the area and “the scene is now safe,” Thompson said.
It is unknown at this time if the incident was an act of terrorism, he added.
Injured people were seen on the ground after the incident, Kaylee Staral, an intern for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who was at the parade, told Trends Wide’s Pamela Brown Sunday night.
About “20 to 30 minutes after the parade, a red truck came speeding down the middle of the street – there was a lot of screaming – and we almost thought that maybe it was Santa, but it was a red truck and it hit a lot of people,” Staral said.
The White House is monitoring the situation and President Joe Biden has been briefed, according to an administration official. The Milwaukee field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is also aware of the incident, according to an FBI spokesperson.
Special agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have responded to assist Waukesha Police, according to Erik Longnecker, Acting Division Chief for the ATF Public Affairs Division.
The Waukesha School District canceled classes Monday, according to the school district, adding that counselors will be available for “students and staff in need of support services.”
Local hospitals serve at least 28 people
Children’s Wisconsin, a pediatric hospital in Milwaukee, says it is treating 15 patients who were injured in the Waukesha Christmas parade.
“Children’s Wisconsin immediately prepared for a surge of patients after receiving a police notification of the Waukesha Christmas Parade incident,” the hospital said in a written statement. “At 8 pm, Children’s Wisconsin received 15 patients from the incident, with no reported deaths at our hospital at the time.”
Aurora Medical Center-Summit, a hospital in Waukesha County, told Trends Wide Sunday night that it is treating 13 patients: three in critical condition, four in critical condition and six in fair condition.
“We are deeply saddened by today’s senseless tragedy and our hearts go out to the Waukesha community,” said a statement from the hospital.
Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, the only Level I trauma center in southeastern Wisconsin, confirmed to Trends Wide that it is also treating patients from the Waukesha incident, but does not provide a number or specific conditions. Level I trauma centers tend to care for the most seriously ill patients.
Among the injured were a Catholic priest, several parishioners and children from Waukesha Catholic schools, according to Sandra Peterson, communications director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“Please join us in praying for all those involved, their families and those who are traumatized by witnessing the horrific scene,” Peterson said in a statement.
Video of the parade posted on the city’s Facebook page shows a red pickup truck speeding through the parade, followed by a police officer rushing through the scene. In the clip, the crowd is seen and heard reacting to off-screen events.
“The horrific violence at the Waukesha Christmas Parade is simply heartbreaking,” Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin wrote on Twitter. “Please keep the victims in your prayers tonight.”
In her description of the injured, Staral said: “Right in front of me, in the little place where I was sitting, there were probably four people, so there were a lot of people who ran to see how they were.”
“I think the four people in front of me were still breathing but they were on the ground, they weren’t moving,” he added.
Waukesha police advised people to avoid the city center and have set up a family reunification center, the agency said on its official Facebook page.
“This is an unspeakable tragedy, affecting us all as we work to get through these two years and resume our beloved holiday traditions,” Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow said in a statement.
“I had just participated in the parade with my wife when I noticed the police sirens. Shortly after, I learned that a vehicle crossed the parade route injuring many people. Please pray for our community tonight after the horrible events in Waukesha Christmas Parade. “
Farrow added that officials are still investigating the incident to understand what happened and asked for prayers for the community.
“Kathy and I are praying for Waukesha tonight and for all the children, families and community members affected by this senseless act,” Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said on Twitter. “I am grateful for the first responders and people who acted quickly to help, and we are in contact with local partners while we await more information.”
News in development
Trends Wide’s Arlette Saen, Andy Rose, and Evan Perez contributed to this report.