WAUKESHA, Wis. – “You couldn’t help but love him.”
That was one of the impressions Jackson Sparks left on Jeff Rogers, president of the baseball club the 8-year-old boy played for and was marching with when he was killed.
On Tuesday, Jackson became the sixth fatality and first child death after an SUV roared through this suburban Milwaukee town’s Christmas Parade two days earlier. The third-grader from nearby Mukwonago had been marching with his Waukesha Blazers team.
The Blazers are “heartbroken” by Jackson’s death, Rogers said in a statement. 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. Jackson’s brother Tucker, 12, also was struck by the rampaging SUV. Both were hospitalized in the intensive care unit at Children’s Wisconsin in Milwaukee, which admitted 16 minors after the incident. The hospital said Wednesday that 10 are still under its care, five of them in critical condition.
Five adults also were killed, and more than 60 people were injured.
Jackson Sparks, 8, becomes the first child to die from injuries in the Waukesha Christmas Parade
Who was Jackson Sparks?
Jackson attended Clarendon Avenue Elementary School in Mukwonago, according to his mother’s Facebook posts. Jackson was in the third grade and Tucker is in sixth grade.
Jackson was a utility player on his baseball team, the Waukesha Blazers, a little guy who everyone supported, club president Jeff Rogers said.
“We are devastated by the senseless act that turned a joyful event into a horrendous tragedy,” Rogers said.
The Blazers said Wednesday they’re setting up a memorial fund to help families affected by the attack, and to create a legacy to honor them.
Jackson underwent brain surgery on Sunday, according to a statement on his GoFundMe page, and his brother suffered a fractured skull and road rash.
Child becomes 6th death in Waukesha crash; officer believes suspect tried to ‘hurt as many people as possible’
NFL player from Waukesha to help with funeral, medical costs
Kevin Zeitler, an offensive lineman for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens who regularly attended the Christmas parade in his native Waukesha as a kid, said he and his wife will assist the victims with funeral and medical expenses.
“We want our community to know that we see them, love them, and we’re here for them,” Kevin and Sara Zeitler wrote in a Twitter post, adding that they would donate to a fund set up for victims of Sunday’s tragedy.
After Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears, Kevin Zeitler tweeted that he attended the parade yearly while growing up in Waukesha and couldn’t “fathom this happening.”
Mourning Milwaukee Dancing Grannies to join parade Dec. 4
Organizers of the First Annual Christmas Parade in Franklin, 15 miles southeast of Waukesha, say the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies have contacted them and plan on joining the parade Dec. 4. Three of the dance troupe members were killed in the Waukesha parade tragedy.
“We’re sensitive to the tragedy in Waukesha and wish to honor the spirit of those who were killed or hurt by participating in the celebration of the Christmas holiday season with a parade,” Franklin Mayor Steve Olson said.
Olson said he was confident that the Franklin event will be safe and enjoyable for families.
“Please come and support these awesome ladies,” Franklin parade organizers said in a Facebook post.
Five counts of first-degree intentional homicide have been filed against Darrell Brooks Jr., 39, of Milwaukee. Authorities said a sixth homicide charge would be filed because of Jackson Sparks’ 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 arrests, was ordered held Tuesday on $5 million bail.
Previous bail for Brooks ignited controversy
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