WAUKESHA, Wis. – “You couldn’t help but love him.”
Jackson Sparks, 8, on Tuesday became the sixth fatality after an SUV roared through this suburban Milwaukee town’s Christmas Parade two days earlier. The third-grader from nearby Mukwanogo had been marching with his Blazers Wolfpack baseball team.
The Blazers organization is “heartbroken” by Jackson’s death, said Jeff Rogers, president of the Waukesha Blazers Baseball/Fastpitch Softball Club. He described Jackson as a “sweet, talented boy … tender hearted with a contagious smile.”
Bundled up in the cold and decked out in Blazers sweatshirts and hats, more than 30 kids and coaches posed for a photo before the parade began. When the carnage began, Jackson’s brother Tucker, 12, also was struck. Both were hospitalized in the intensive care unit at Children’s Wisconsin.
Jackson is the first child to die from his injuries. Five adults also were killed, and more than 60 people were injured.
Jackson attended Clarendon Avenue Elementary School in Mukwonago, according to their mother’s Facebook posts. Jackson was in the third grade and Tucker is in sixth grade. Jackson was a utility player on the baseball team, a little guy who everyone supported, Rogers said. A joy to coach.
“We are devastated by the senseless act that turned a joyful event into a horrendous tragedy,” Rogers said.
Jackson underwent brain surgery on Sunday, according to a statement on his GoFundMe page, and his brother suffered a fractured skull and road rash.
Five counts of first-degree intentional homicide were filed against Darrell Brooks Jr., 39, of Milwaukee. Authorities said a sixth homicide charge would be filed because of Jackson’s death. Police say Brooks was fleeing a domestic disturbance where a knife was reported when he drove an SUV into the parade route.
The criminal complaint says Brooks plowed into pedestrians despite multiple opportunities to exit the route, according to eyewitnesses.
A charge of first-degree intentional homicide carries a mandatory life prison sentence, if convicted. Brooks, who has a lengthy record of convictions, was ordered held Tuesday on $5 million bail.
Brooks was free on $1,000 bail posted Friday for another pending case that included an allegation he deliberately hit a woman with his car in early November after a fight. The $1,000 bail, which was recommended by prosecutors, was called “inappropriately low,” according to a statement this week from the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office. The amount also has drawn criticism from conservatives including former President Donald Trump, who called the amount “very low” and argued that Brooks should not have been freed in the days before the Waukesha carnage.
Lower bails are favored by a nationwide reform movement that claims bail, designed to ensure people return to court to face charges, has morphed into widespread, wealth-based incarceration.
Police identified those killed as Virginia Sorenson, 79; LeAnna Owen, 71; Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; and Wilhelm Hospel, 81. Sorenson, Owen and Durand were members the Dancing Grannies club, and Hospel helped out with the group.
Sorenson had a bad back and a bad hip but loved to dance – and helped newcomers and veterans with the group’s routines, said her husband of 56 years, David Sorenson.
“She liked the instructing. She liked the dancing and the camaraderie of the women. She liked to perform,” he said.
Owen was an enthusiastic member of the Dancing Grannies and manager of a 32-unit apartment complex. Owner Dave Schmidt said she was full of kindness toward tenants.
“She didn’t have a mean bone in her body. She was the nicest lady,” Schmidt said.
Bacon reported from Arlington, Virginia. Contributing: Bill Glauber, Sarah Volpenhein, Talis Shelbourne, Ashley Luthern, Cady Stanton, Joel Shannon, Bruce Vielmetti, USA TODAY NETWORK