WAUKESHA — Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly told The Freeman Tuesday that the community of Waukesha is the type to “help their neighbors,” which will continue after the tragedy that unfolded Sunday at the city’s Christmas Parade.
“It will take time,” Reilly said. “I mean, if you’ve lost your mother, a year later it’s there. If you have an injured child, it’s there.”
There will be a time for funerals, he said, which will allow for more grieving and healing. The city will be a part of the healing; however, Reilly said healing will come from the churches, community organizations, neighbors and friends.
At the vigil on Monday night to honor those killed and wounded during the parade, Reilly said, he saw an outpouring of support from people of many walks of life. While the city helped facilitate the Monday vigil, Reilly said it was truly the community that arranged it.
“That’s what we’re going to need — is the community to continue reaching out to provide support for the people that were injured by death in the family, by injury to someone in their family or all the people who experienced mental trauma,” he said. Reilly said to anyone who experienced Sunday’s traumatic events: “I feel your pain and I’m sorry that this is happening to you and (I) just want you to know that you have my sympathies.”
Reilly said he wants Nov. 21, 2021, to be a symbol of how Waukesha was forced to endure a tragedy, live through it and come out as an even stronger community.
“One thing that all of us can do is contribute to the (United for Waukesha Community Fund), which is a joint project by both the Waukesha County Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County.”
Reilly said he was happy to hear that a fund was set up by local organizations that have experience organizing funds such as this one.
“I know that they will help the people that really need help,” he said. “The money that’s donated will go solely to help these people.”
Reilly, who was born in Waukesha, later left the city for law school in Portland. He lived in the Waukesha County area when he moved back, then returned to Waukesha and has lived here continuously since 2005. He started to work at his father’s law firm in 1989, specializing in municipal law.
“I was a kid in the 60s, then in the 70s I was in high school,” he said. “(Waukesha) was a place (that was) overrun by children, I think was the best way to describe it ... it’s a larger community with a small town feeling. In fact, people act like it’s a small town too. You know your neighbors, you work with your neighbors (including) when your neighbors need some help.”
Reilly said if a neighbor is mowing their front lawn, they would also mow their neighbor’s lawn.
“(People) are involved in the community, and that includes their churches and baseball teams and high schools,” Reilly said. “They know each other, they don’t just go into their houses and cocoon in there, they’re out and about with each other.”
Reilly said this extends to attending community events, including Friday Night Live, Tribute Tuesday, Oktoberfest, Waukesha Janboree and more. “People want to be together, they want to celebrate,” he said.
On Sunday, Reilly was walking at the front of the Waukesha Christmas Parade wearing a tuxedo and a top hat, and the parade was taking place as it typically does. Reilly said all he saw was joy — parents behind children and many adults without children attending the parade because they love the parade.
“(There were) lots of kids on the curb, lots of kids waiting for candy,” he said.
At the end of the parade route, Reilly said every year he typically circles back downtown to watch the parade with his mother. On Sunday, due to the weather, he decided to go home, two blocks away from the end of the route, to change into something warmer.
Reilly was home for only 10 minutes before he heard sirens. Shortly after, he received a call from Rebecca Pederson, assistant to the mayor and city administrator, informing him of what happened.
Reilly said staff reported to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at City Hall, the first time the new room was utilized for a realtime emergency at the building since it opened in 2021.
“The complexity of trying to manage this is, unless you see it, you don’t really understand it ... remember this was also a police investigation of probably about eight blocks, which is enormous,” Reilly said.
Reilly’s mother was sitting inside The Avalon on Sunday and was uninjured, he said.
During Reilly’s interview with The Freeman, it had been nearly 48 hours since the incident had occurred. Since then Reilly’s heard from an enormous amount of people, including Pope Francis, he said.
“I’ve received phone calls, texts, emails from every single local government leader expressing their support and well wishes,” Reilly said. “The county has been instrumental in this, they’ve provided a ton of help (including) (Waukesha County Executive) Paul Farrow (and his staff).”
Many have commented on Waukesha and prayed for healing.
“I don’t know anyone who was injured,” Reilly said. “I know way too many people who saw the incident. Quite a few of the business owners and their patrons were witness to this. (They) were helping try to save people. They saw what no one wants to see.”
Darrell Brooks, 39, who allegedly drove through crowds Sunday at the Waukesha Christmas Parade, is facing five charges of first-degree intentional homicide. Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper announced a sixth such count will be filed.
Reilly said his focus is not on Brooks.
“My focus is on bringing Waukesha together, not creating issues that may tear it apart,” Reilly said. “What we need to do now is heal. The judicial system will take care of the individual who drove that car. A bunch of people trying to let their positions be known as to what should happen to him isn’t going to change what the judicial system is going to do anyway.”
Reilly added that the man responsible will spend the rest of his life in prison.
For the latest news on the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy, click here.