‘We’re Waukesha Strong’

From left, Fire Chief Steve Howard, Police Chief Dan Thompson and Mayor Shawn Reilly at City Hall on Thursday.

 

WAUKESHA — Officials gathered at City Hall on Thursday, following the sentencing of Darrell Brooks Jr., sharing how they will move forward with the community to show their resilience as the one-year anniversary of the Nov. 21 Waukesha Christmas Parade attack approaches.

Brooks, 40, was convicted of 76 crimes and was sentenced Wednesday to six life terms – one for each person he killed when he drove an SUV through the parade. Brooks was also sentenced another 762.5 years for recklessly endangering the safety of 61 others, six more years on two felony bail jumping counts and nine months for battering his girlfriend Erika Patterson before the parade attack.

Brooks was also sentenced to serve six more terms or 15 years in custody and 10 years on supervision for the hit-and-run causing death charges against him. Those sentences were ordered to be served concurrently to the life sentences. An additional 305 years of extended supervision was ordered for Brooks to serve if he were to live that long.

“Getting past the trial does help, I think, the entire community heal,” said Mayor Shawn Reilly, adding he fully expected the trial would result in consecutive life sentences.

Reilly said people can now focus on healing instead of whether justice will be served.

Reilly said he only watched about 15-20 minutes of Brooks’ trial and advised others not to watch it. The few times he did watch made him very angry, he said. And though hatred and anger are natural reactions to this tragedy, Reilly urged those carrying such feelings to seek help from the community and available resources.

The Resiliency Center, in partnership with the city and many others, has secured federal funding to provide support for survivors, family members, responders, business owners and others affected by the tragedy.

Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson applauded the family members, friends and loved ones who spoke during the trial for their immense courage, and joined Reilly in acknowledging Judge Jennifer Dorow’s professionalism and patience.

Thompson also acknowledged fellow officers and detectives who took the stand during the trial.

“They did a phenomenal job,” said Thompson. “They (would) come back and you could see the exhaustion on their faces. But they would not change anything for the outcome that we got.”

Resilience of the community and first responders

Officials shared their thanks and deep appreciation for the support and resilience everyone has shown.

“We have thousands upon thousands of heroes that helped the community,” said Reilly. “It’s not just the city itself, it’s not just the police department, it’s not just the fire department. For me, it’s very moving as to how many individuals that aren’t affiliated with working for the city have come together to help people.”

Thompson said the events he saw unfold on Nov. 21, 2021 were nothing short of a war zone. But in that terrible moment, he saw the best in the community and first responders.

With that, however, still comes the pain and trauma. Thompson and Waukesha Fire Chief Steve Howard made similar remarks about the traumatizing of their officers and staff, as well as how it affected them personally.

“It did traumatize myself,” said Thompson. “But I will say this: God intended me to be there that day, with this community and with this police department. And in the worst, I saw the best.”

Thompson reminded his officers on Nov. 21 that he loved them and God intended for them to be there in that moment.

Howard told the first responders that night to take care of themselves and make sure they are taking care of one another.

Both Howard and Thompson said their departments and stronger today than they were on Nov. 21. The incident did not define them; it refined them, said Thompson.

“Thank you,” said Howard to the citizens who responded that day. “That was an incredible act of evil, but the goodness that happened immediately, people didn’t hesitate, and there’s so many stories of that.”

Moving forward

Leading up to the next Waukesha Christmas Parade on Dec. 4, several events will take place to honor the victims and community.

On Monday, Nov. 21, a One-Year Remembrance Ceremony will be held starting at 4:39 p.m. in Cutler Park. A moment of silence will start the ceremony followed by remarks from Governor Tony Evers, Thompson, Howard and the Rev. Patrick Heppe from the Catholic Communities, who was injured during the parade attack. The ceremony will end with a song.

Healing Hearts and the Resiliency Center will be at the ceremony for anyone who needs to talk or is looking for support.

On Friday, Dec. 2, the Night of Lights will start at 5:30 p.m. with the lighting of the Downtown Christmas Tree and a lantern walk with caroling down Main Street. The night will end with the lighting of the City’s Walk of Lights along the Riverfront and across the bridges.

On Sunday, Dec. 4, the Waukesha Christmas Parade will start at 4 p.m. This year’s theme is “Peace on Earth”. The Grand Marshal is “All First Responders” and will be represented by Thompson, Howard and Reilly.

For safety, barricades will be put up, there will be many officers visible and more covert things will be going on as well. The police department is working with state and federal partners for this year’s parade, along with intelligence to build a response to any possible, credible threats.

“Moving forward, the public can know that they’re going to be safe and secure in those areas,” said Thompson.

Howard added that the fire department is looking at how they can provide the best fire and EMS support to coordinate a response if something were to happen again.

Reilly said the departments are doing everything they can to make this year’s parade safe, adding that he won’t be apprehensive when walking in the parade.

“If we didn’t have celebrations and just decided that we’re no longer going to have community gatherings, that would be letting evil win, and we’re not going to let that happen,” he said.