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The suspect in the Wis. Christmas parade attack has a previous criminal record


We've learned that the man accused of driving his vehicle into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wis., and killing five people had a history of criminal charges. Police identified the suspect as Darrell Brooks Jr., 39 years old. His past accusations include a firearms charge and also an incident involving a vehicle. Investigators said he confronted a woman outside a motel this month and ran her over. She had tire marks on her pants. Shortly before Sunday's attack, police say he was involved in a domestic disturbance, but police say they were not chasing him when his vehicle crashed the barricades and plowed through the parade. NPR's Odette Yousef joins us now with more. Waukesha Police released some details about the suspect the driver of the SUV. Odette, what's been the reaction in the community?

ODETTE YOUSEF, BYLINE: You know, people told me they were just incredibly angry, A, especially because so many children were hurt or traumatized in the incident. I was also hearing, though, some bewilderment that Brooks might even have been able to do this, you know, given the prior charges you mentioned in this Milwaukee case that involved the mother of his child - so some anger as well that perhaps his bond was set too low and that he now faces charges for similar violent activity.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, you attended last night's vigil in Waukesha. Tell us what you saw.

YOUSEF: Well, it was frigid outside. But as far as I could see, that didn't keep people from turning out. You know, there was just a crowd of people holding candles in this park that really wasn't far from Main Street, where the tragic events occurred on Sunday. This was an interfaith event, so it was a lot of shared prayers, which culminated in a moment to name and honor the five who died.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And so we remember...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Virginia Sorenson.




YOUSEF: You know, A, despite the grief, I was also hearing hope, hope that this community has the strength and the unity to help each other move forward.

MARTÍNEZ: Police have ruled out terrorism as a motive for the attack. But at the same time, you've noticed those on the far right trying to take advantage of the moment. Tell us more about them.

YOUSEF: Well, Darrell Brooks is Black, and Waukesha is 89% white. So predictably, extremists have been exploiting this to sow racial division. But frankly, this was completely divorced from the reality of how Waukesha residents themselves told me they were feeling.

MARTÍNEZ: In what way?

YOUSEF: Well, I'll tell you a surprising encounter that I witnessed. There was a pickup truck driving through downtown that later I saw parked near the vigil with three big flags flying out the back - an American flag, a thin blue line flag and a flag to show solidarity for police - or for fire department. The person who owns this truck is a man named Steve Race (ph). He was wearing a Trump 2024 hat, and he told me a couple months ago he founded a group called Patriots on Patrol, so you can think of what his politics might be.

But as I was speaking with him, a woman named Arlene McLaren (ph) asked to take a photo of his truck. And then she told me how she agrees with something he had written on his truck, which was, one nation under God. You know, he's white, and she's Black. But you know, they embraced. And they, together, expressed a common hope that perhaps faith could help their community and perhaps even the country come together after these, you know, these tragic events.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Odette Yousef, thank you very much.

YOUSEF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Odette Yousef is a WBEZ reporter covering immigration, race and class.
Odette Yousef
Odette Yousef is a National Security correspondent focusing on extremism.