Southeastern Wisconsin has been through so much

From the mass shooting at Miller brewing in Feb. 2020 to the pandemic to the unimaginable tragedy at the Waukesha Christmas Parade, this community has endured so much these last two years.

The Recombobulation Area is an award-winning weekly opinion column by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.

Hundreds attend a candle light vigil in Cutler Park in Waukesha, Wisconsin on November 22, 2021, the day after a driver plowed into a Christmas Parade, killing six and injuring more than 60. Photo by Mustafa Hussain / Getty Images.

In the wake of the horrific tragedy at the Waukesha Christmas Parade this past Sunday, one thing I keep thinking about is how much southeastern Wisconsin has been through, dating back to the mass shooting at Miller brewery in February of 2020. 

It’s just been so much.

The mass shooting at Miller on Milwaukee’s west side, where five people were shot and killed at their place of work, happened on Feb. 26, 2020. The Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy, where five were killed and nearly 50 more were injured in an automobile attack during a celebration of “Comfort and Joy,” happened on Nov. 21, 2021. In between, the covid-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 8,800 Wisconsinites. Many across are still processing the contentious Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Kenosha and the verdict delivered just days ago. This community has experienced a tremendous amount of pain, loss, sadness, and grief in 2020 and 2021. 

The city of Waukesha and the surrounding communities of the Milwaukee metro area are grieving and mourning the losses of Tamara Durand (52), Wilhelm Hospel (81), Jane Kulich (42), LeAnna Owen (71), Virginia Sorenson (79), and Jackson Sparks (8) and hold their breath as 62 more people, including more than a dozen children, recover from injuries sustained in the attack. The latest reports say that several children — members of the Waukesha Xtreme Dance team, members of the Waukesha South High School band, brothers and sisters and cousins — are described as fighting for their lives or in need of a miracle. The latest update from Children’s Wisconsin said 13 children remain hospitalized, six in critical condition. 

This is just unimaginably devastating. To think of how many lives were permanently traumatized that day is just sickening. For this to occur during such an important celebration for the community, at a time when coming together for gatherings like this have become even more important given the time away, just adds to the immense weight of this tragedy. It is going to take so much to endure and overcome.

Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin is, in so many ways, a big small town. Everyone from the region knows somebody who was there at the parade or who’s life was directly affected by the tragic events of that day. What happened at that parade touched so many lives.

It’s just been so much. 

About $800,000 had been raised by Tuesday for the 18 GoFundMe-verified pages for parade victims, the AP reported, and in addition, the Waukesha County Community Foundation, organized in part by the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha, has raised nearly $1 million. This community is stepping where it can.

But so much feels so broken right now. As Lori Nickel wrote in a terrific piece at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “We are not taking care of each other. We are not looking out. We are not doing the work that it takes to make this world better.”

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There are many unanswered questions that linger in the wake of this tragedy. The suspect in the attack, Darrell Brooks Jr., has been arrested and charged with six counts of intentional homicide, but his lengthy criminal history, including an incident less than a month ago where he allegedly ran over the mother of his child with a car at a Milwaukee gas station, raises serious concerns about the way his cases were handled, particularly by the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office.

The DA’s office, led by District Attorney John Chisholm, said in a statement that “the bail recommendation in this case was inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent charges and the pending charges against Mr. Brooks.”

Admitting fault can be the first step toward accountability. In this case it cannot — absolutely cannot — be the last step.

The debate over what that accountability means will unfold in the weeks to come, but now is a time to come together and grieve as a community. To grieve. To be there for each other. To give back. To find space to process this tragedy.

This week, being Thanksgiving, offers us an opportunity to be together with family and friends and loved ones. Let’s not take that opportunity for granted as we come together as a community and find the best way forward, and give special thanks for all those who stepped up to help and save lives, from the police, fire and first responders to the medical professionals in the hospitals to the fellow parade-goers who helped on the scene.

Our thoughts here are with Waukesha and with those still recovering. Our hopes are for healing, especially for those children still fighting at Children’s, and for the continued resilience of the people living in this corner of the country. We’ve all been through so much. 


To donate to the United for Waukesha Community Fund, click here. To find the many GoFundMe pages connected to victims of the tragic incident, click here


Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes the award-winning column, The Recombobulation Area. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s also written for The Daily Beast, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.


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