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More than $600K raised to support the victims of the Waukesha Christmas Parade

Landmarks across Milwaukee will be lit in blue Tuesday night to honor those lost on Sunday

A sign on a glass door says "Waukesha Strong" with a heart.
A sign is displayed outside of a business in downtown Waukesha on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Angela Major/WPR

After the typically joyous Waukesha Christmas Parade turned deadly Sunday, people across the nation are pouring money into a fund to support the victims.

Shelli Marquardt is the president of the Waukesha County Community Foundation, which has created the United for Waukesha Community Fund in partnership with United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than $600,000 in donations had been raised, Marquardt said. The funds will be used for funeral expenses, medical bills and mental health support services.

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Sixty-two people were injured and six people died Sunday when Darrell Brooks, 39, plowed his SUV into the parade route.

“The outpouring of support for the fund has been amazing,” Marquardt said. “We were looking at some statistics, and we had gifts from every single state in the country. We had one as far away as Ontario, Canada. We’ve had 3,500 unique, individual gifts.”

Marquardt said they’re still determining how to distribute the donations, but pointed to similar models set up in the wake of the Ventura, California mass shooting in 2018 and the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. She said that means funds will be distributed via a tiered system with first tier funds going to families of deceased victims. Second tier funds will go to those injured, and tier three funds will likely be designated to those otherwise impacted by the tragedy, Marquardt said.

“In the coming days, we are definitely going to have more information out on how that will be handled and the application process to receive those funds,” said Marquardt.

Roses lean on a concrete structure in a park.
Flowers are placed at Veteran’s Park in memory of the victims of the Christmas parade tragedy Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Waukesha, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The Milwaukee Brewers raised nearly $35,000 for the fund with a Tuesday morning meet and greet along with Pabst Theater Group and Colectivo Coffee. They are continuing their efforts throughout the week with the inaugural Magic of Lights, a drive-thru light display at American Family Field. The Brewers Community Foundation will donate $10 to the fund for each car that comes Wednesday through Friday, and their donation will be matched by American Family Insurance and Magic of Lights. Tickets can be purchased in person or online.

Milwaukee Downtown announced Tuesday that landmarks across Milwaukee would be lit in blue to raise awareness and encourage donations for the Waukesha Community Fund.

Personal fundraisers for victims and families impacted by Sunday’s violence have also been established with hundreds of thousands of dollars already raised.

A GoFundMe page for Tucker Sparks, 12, and his brother Jackson Sparks, 8, had swelled to nearly $190,000 as of Tuesday afternoon. According to the page, both boys were seriously injured during the parade. Tuesday, an update from the parents on the page confirmed that Jackson had died, bringing the death toll from the incident to six.

Their older son Tucker, “is miraculously recovering from his injuries and will be … discharged home,” the page reads.

One GoFundMe page created by Waukesha West High School band director Kali Granzow has collected more than $174,000 since Monday. The page identifies the Waukesha West High School band as one of three that participated in the Christmas parade. Granzow wrote that many of her students were injured, and the fund is looking to support them.

“We are looking to help the South band with medical costs, new instruments, and uniforms, as well as any additional expenses that they may encounter due to this horrific event,” she wrote on the page.

Another GoFundMe page to aid Amber Kohnke, whose daughter Jessalyn was one of the Waukesha Xtreme Dance members hit on Sunday, has raised more than $60,000 to assist with medical bills for the child who is being treated for lung and kidney damage, liver lacerations and tachycardia, according to the page. The fund was established by a family friend, Oscar Luna.

In an update Tuesday, Kohnke wrote that Jessalyn was still in critical condition.

“My beautiful Jessalyn is a fighter. She was always full of spunk and sass, but has a huge heart,” the page reads. “Yesterday was a very rough day with keeping her vitals and everything as stable as possible. It will be a roller coaster for a while yet and she will have a long road of recovery ahead.”

For individuals wanting to give in other ways, the Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin will be extending their hours at their Waukesha and surrounding locations to encourage blood donations.

There has also been a strong outpouring of love from the dance community.

Sweatshop Movement, a dance studio in Racine, is showing support for their fellow “Pom pals” by making friendship bracelets for members of the Waukesha Xtreme Dance Team and sending cards to the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies.

The Wisconsin Association of Cheer and Pom Coaches is organizing a similar campaign to send cards to the dancers and studios impacted by Sunday’s tragedy.

Colorful Christmas lights can be seen on Main Street in Waukesha under a blue sky.
Main Street reopens after the Christmas parade tragedy Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Waukesha, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

As cities across the state proceed with their own holiday celebrations, they are paying tribute to the victims, and ensuring events can continue safely.

Appleton’s Downtown Christmas Parade is one such event. The city bills the parade as “the biggest and the best nighttime Christmas parade in the Midwest,” drawing 80,000 spectators annually. After being canceled last year due to the pandemic, the 2021 parade was set to return with a fanfare. Instead, Tuesday night’s 50th annual parade will begin with a silent procession dedicated to the victims and families in the Waukesha community.

For those in need of support, distress hotlines and counseling services have been set up across the city.

City officials are encouraging people to reach out to the Disaster Distress Helpline, open 24/7, by calling or texting 800-985-5990. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Waukesha is also offering counseling services, email wak-counseling@uwm.edu to make an appointment. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin — where many of the children injured Sunday are being treated — is also offering a mental and emotional support line. People can call 414-266-6500 to be connected to a counselor.

Editor’s note: WPR’s Diane Bezucha, Rich Kremer and Jenny Peek contributed to this report. This story will be updated.