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Reporter who witnessed deadly events at Waukesha Christmas parade shares her experience

Memorials placed along Main Street in downtown Waukesha left in areas where people were hit by a driver plowing into the Christmas parade on Main Street in downtown Nov. 22, 2021 in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Jim Vondruska
Getty Images North America
Memorials placed along Main Street in downtown Waukesha left in areas where people were hit by a driver plowing into the Christmas parade on Main Street in downtown Waukesha on Nov. 21, 2021.

Surrounded by merry music, steaming hot chocolate, and jubilant children, soaking it all in, Kaylee Staral was enjoying time with her family at the Waukesha holiday parade — then chaos erupted. First, she heard screams and police sirens as people fled into the shops that lined the street.

Staral is an intern at the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel. And what started as a day to enjoy off of work quickly changed after witnessing 39-year-old Darrell Brooks drive into the crowd. Staral promptly took to social media to inform people about what was happening.

“In the moment it doesn’t seem real. Is it part of the parade? Is someone trying to hurt people? Your first thought is that it could be Santa at the end of the parade, but then it becomes clear," says Staral. "A red SUV comes barreling down the street. All you see is this red car hit people, and then people are laying on the ground.”

As the situation unfolded, Staral recalls seeing a mixture of civilians and police hurrying into the crowd to help the people that had just been struck by the car.

“As all this is happening, two police officers are radioing to the other police in the area, '30 people down, shots fired, everyone get off the street.’ I didn’t hear shots fired, but when the police say that, you get out of there,” says Staral.

Police believe that the shots that Staral described were not from the red SUV but rather from officers attempting to slow or stop the vehicle as it burst through the street. The gunfire injured no bystanders.

Staral also attended the community-held vigil last Monday night at Cutler Park in Waukesha. She described a community in mourning and stepping up to help the needs of those affected.

“There are also a lot of people hurting, there’s still people in hospitals and people grieving,” says Staral. “When I got there [Cutler Park] there were hundreds and hundreds of people gathered together in this park, and it was freezing. It wasn’t exactly pleasant to be outside, but there were hundreds of people.”

Staral described the atmosphere at the vigil as somber but hopeful.

“It’s a family, [a] community, and many of the people I spoke to echoed that sentiment…everyone just wanted to do what they could,” says Staral.

As information continues to funnel in, we now know that at least six people have died as a result of the incident.

Being a part of the Waukesha community herself, Staral spoke about how the community can continue to heal. Her answer was defined by two things — time and togetherness.

“The first part I think is processing what happened, [it] is grieving what happened, and trying to make sense of it,” says Staral, “I think the second part of that is just what people were saying about leaning on the community and being there for one another so it’s really kind of just everyone is in this together.”

Beck Andrew Salgado was a producer with Lake Effect.
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