The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Waukesha Strong

Photo by Isabel Bonebrake
Victims, family, friends and community members gathered to honor those who lost their lives a year ago.

Blue lights, the sounds of singing to “Lean On Me,” by Bill Withers, tears, prayer, support and remembrance from hundreds of people, including victims, family, friends and community members filled Cutler Park to honor the lives that were taken a year ago at the 2021 Waukesha County Christmas Parade.

Shawn Reilly, mayor of Waukesha, started the one-year remembrance ceremony Nov. 21 at 4:39 p.m., exactly a year after Darrell Brooks drove a SUV through the parade killing six and injuring dozens.

Jane Kulich, Tamara Carlson, Wihelm Hospel, LeAnna Owens, Virginia ‘Ginny’ Sorenson and Jackson Sparks were the six people who lost their lives a year ago. There was a minute of silence at the beginning of the celebration held to honor their legacy.

Reilly said although a happy celebration quickly evolved into “horror, shock and trauma,” the Waukesha community responded to the situation with bravery, love, compassion and unity.

“We have been Waukesha Strong every day for the past year,” Reilly said. “As a community, we continue to work on healing. We are doing it together. We help those who need healing.”

Gov. Tony Evers spoke after Reilly, and said the event was aimed to “remember” and “cherish” the six who lost their lives and to look back on the growth the Waukesha community has made since the tragedy.

“Every household, including my own — their front porches had blue lights to show that hope, love and unity would persevere. Waukesha has worked to turn in unimaginable tragedy into a powerful source of hope and love and strength,” Evers said.

Reilly encouraged everyone to install a blue light in their homes and businesses until the holidays. For the people of Waukesha, the blue lights are a unifying symbol to show support for the victims and their loved ones. At the event, the Committee for the Waukesha Parade memorial were giving away free blue lights.

Originally from Waukesha, Jack Ginter, a junior in the College of Engineering, said despite what happened, it brought the community closer.

“People immediately looked for ways to help the victims financially, and group prayer was a constant over the first few weeks praying for those still in the hospital as well as for the families of the deceased,” Ginter said.

Joined alongside Reilly and Governor Tony Evers were Waukesha Fire Chief Steve Howard, Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson, Waukesha pastor Fr. Patrick Heppe, and community artist Carmen De La Pez.

De La Pez, led the crowd of people to sing along to “Lean On Me,” a song request by Reilly. She said although she didn’t pick the song, it symbolizes the Waukesha community leaning on each other to get through the difficult time.

There will be a memorial for the tragedy located at the gate of Grede Park in Waukesha constructed by De La Pez.

The sculpture will encompass what De La Pez believes Waukesha Strong looks like. She said the six-foot, three-inch wide statue will be an open hand, holding a heart. To her, De La Pez said Waukesha Strong is about the community coming together.

“I think you’re never going to heal completely. It’s one of those wounds where you can put a Band-Aid on it and you’ll take the Band-Aid off, and you’re still going to find that wound,” De La Pez said. “I just think that evenings like tonight with everybody coming together just takes everybody a step forward in the healing process.”

Brooks was sentenced to six life sentences for each of the victims he killed and 61 counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety. He also received 762 and a half years of initial confinement and an additional 305 years of extended supervision.

De La Pez believes that in a situation like this where Brooks defended himself in the way that he did, it is going to be difficult for the community to get closure because it created more “rage.”

Brooks represented himself throughout the trial. He often interrupted, laughed, yelled at and attempted to scare Judge Jennifer Dorow by staring her down.

The way Brooks decided to defend himself resulted in numerous breaks and was removed from court after several outbursts. At one point in the trail, he decided to remove his shirt and stuck signs he was given down his pants.

Dorow said that his actions made it clear to the court that he was making a “mockery” of the process.

Brooks was also found rolling his eyes at some of the comments that victims and survivors said in their address to him.

“The situation was already rage-filled. The situation was already unexplainable, unjustifiable, un-understandable, then you meet the gentleman that actually created all the rage and it becomes even more un-understandable, unjustifiable,” De La Pez said. “How can you find closure in something so evil?”

As the ceremony came to a close, the community chanted “Waukesha” in unison after Reilly encouraged all those who were suffering or struggling to get help and that everybody needs “somebody to lean on.”

“We know that for most, things will never go back to the way they were. We know our lives have been forever changed. As we stand here, we are different people than one year ago. We have lived through horror and trauma, however, we have not and will not let evil define us. We are united,” Reilly said.

Andrew Hubbuch contributed to this report

This story was written by Julia Abuzzahab. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @juliaabuz

Story continues below advertisement
Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Julia Abuzzahab
Julia Abuzzahab, Executive Projects Editor
Julia Abuzzahab is a senior from Wausau, Wisconsin studying journalism and film and media studies and is the Executive Projects Editor of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-2024 school year. Prior to this position, she served as the Executive News Editor for the organization. Outside of the Wire, she enjoys playing piano and seeing her friends. She is most excited to see all of the work her and her team accomplish this year and spending time with her friends in the newsroom.  

Comments (0)

All Marquette Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *