December 13, 2021 at 1:50 p.m.
Tragedy strikes the town I call home
Although my husband, children and I were not at the parade, we know plenty of people who were. Some narrowly escaped injury or worse. A friend of mine described it as a war zone, like something out of a movie: bodies lying in the street, blood everywhere, people running and screaming. A fun and festive event became a deadly and horrible memory.
Filled with anger and sadness, I prayed for everyone who was at the parade that night. I prayed for those who died and those who were injured, and their families, as well as for the mental health and wellbeing of every spectator who saw and heard things no person should ever have to experience. I continue to hold all parade-goers close to my heart in prayer.
Thousands of people came to enjoy the festivities that day and watched with happy hearts as 68 parade entries marched by in the 58th annual Waukesha Christmas Parade, the theme of which was Comfort and Joy. Participants included the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, high school marching bands and sports teams, dance troupes, businesses and more.
The Waukesha Christmas Parade is an event my family and I have attended many times. It takes place on Main Street, in the heart of downtown, and people set up chairs to claim a seat hours before it starts. The city is filled with smiles and the laughter of those in attendance – both young and old – as they celebrate the excitement of the holiday season. Children scramble to collect candy as they wait to glimpse Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Since my children are older, it had been a few years since we went to the parade. However, this year both of my kids would have marched in it had we not been out of town. Students from their high school’s state champion sports teams were marching in the parade; therefore, my daughter would have walked with her softball team and my son with his football team. I am grateful we were not there. Thankfully, none of the students from their school were injured.
Following the shock and horror of that November night, school was canceled across Waukesha the next day. Some schools canceled classes for the entire week. My kids and I attended Mass at their high school that Monday and were joined by many others who came together to mourn, remember and pray. There was also a vigil in downtown Waukesha that evening, along with other Masses and prayer services in the community.
It was a surreal feeling seeing and hearing my town’s name splashed across national and world news. Waukesha was featured for a terrible reason. But there is so much to love about this town. It is not a dangerous city by any means. I have lived here for 21 years and always felt safe. I have enjoyed raising my family here. This is our home. We will not let this tragedy define our city. By the grace of God, we will triumph over evil.
Churches, local businesses and other organizations collected money for the victims’ families. Churches and schools offered counseling services to help people cope with mental anguish and emotional distress. One week later, the city of Waukesha observed a minute of silence at 4:39 p.m. as bells rang at two local churches in remembrance of the Nov. 21 tragedy.
Ten days after the parade, my daughter and I visited the memorial for the deceased at Veterans Park that sits at the end of Main Street – the end of the parade route. Six white crosses stand in remembrance of each life lost, displaying messages of condolences and love. The site is filled with stuffed animals, flowers, candles, balloons and more, symbolizing an outpouring of community love and support.
It was my first time visiting downtown since the parade. It felt weird to drive down the street where people had been brutally murdered, or walk down the sidewalks knowing what people witnessed from the very place I was standing.
As we sat in our favorite coffee shop that evening, with Christmas trees glistening in the windows, I looked out onto the somber street where disaster so recently occurred. Our city is forever changed. It was violated, and a large scar remains. I don’t think any Waukesha resident will ever step foot downtown again without recalling that tragic day.
One of the victims who died was an 8-year-old boy named Jackson. Jackson loved baseball and played for the Waukesha Blazers. On Friday, Dec. 3, people from across Wisconsin and beyond showed support for Jackson and his family by wearing baseball jerseys as part of a campaign called Jerseys for Jackson. My kids wore Milwaukee Brewers baseball jerseys to school, and my husband wore a Brewers jersey to work.
Although our hearts are broken here in Waukesha, there is a strong sense of unity among its citizens. The tagline, Waukesha Strong, appears everywhere, and the campaign,
Unite with a Blue Light, has blue light glowing from homes and businesses all over Waukesha and surrounding communities.
Last Saturday, my children and I visited downtown Waukesha again. I was happy to see the city was filled with Christmas spirit. Decorations filled the town, casting a festive glow over everyone – tokens of the season set in place prior to the parade. People of all ages were lined up to have their picture taken with Santa and his reindeer. A horse-drawn carriage strung with Christmas lights carried people up and down Main Street. It warmed my heart.
Flags in the city remain at half-staff. But amid the suffering and grieving, there is hope as people seek peace and healing.
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