Darrell Brooks sentencing: Waukesha parade victims speak, court cleared over threat

Sending a message loud and clear, 45 victims and survivors of the Waukesha Christmas parade attack shared powerful personal accounts of how the attack impacted them Tuesday, Nov. 15 in the first of two sentencing hearings for Darrell Brooks. 

Tuesday's hearing was not without disruptions. A threat made to the courthouse forced officials to clear the courtroom and secure the building.


Extra security at Waukesha County courthouse after threat made during Brooks sentencing

Brooks' sentencing

The jury found Brooks guilty of six counts of first-degree intentional homicide. Each count carries a mandatory life sentence in Wisconsin. Judge Dorow has discretion over the other 70 counts -- a decision that will come Wednesday.

To begin court on Tuesday, Brooks referred to himself as Darrell Brooks, Jr. It was the first time he ever stated his full name in court. The judge noted Brooks had filed for a stay of his sentence and other motions. They would not be dealt with during this hearing. 

Brooks did not request his speakers present their statements by Zoom, but the judge indicated during a break that the appropriate measures would be taken to ensure Brooks' mother had the Zoom information to be shared with a pre-approved list of people.

Victim statements (excerpts)

Lori Lochen, Catholic Communities of Waukesha

"It truly amazes me you deny your accountability," Lochen said. "My prayer for you is you find your salvation."

Bill Mitchell, Catholic Communities of Waukesha

"The evil (Brooks) did showed how strong our community is," Mitchell said. "When the prison door closes on this felon, I won't think about him again."


Bill Mitchell, Catholic Communities of Waukesha

Jason Pechloff, Catholic Communities of Waukesha

"You have shown no remorse for what you've done," Pechloff said. "You stole our innocence that day…never thought an evil thing like this could happen at a parade."

Margaret Pechulis, Catholic Communities of Waukesha

"I remember the moment someone yelled, 'Car!' After that moment, I have a void in my memory," Pechulis said.


Margaret Pechulis, Catholic Communities of Waukesha

Jeff Rogers, sons marched with Waukesha Blazers (Blazers president)

"We were literally inches away from losing our kids and my life," Rogers said. "I play it over and over in my mind…The moment was a blur."

Jessica Gonzalez, representing Waukesha Blazers

"Darrell Brooks drove through our joy…I cannot offer forgiveness; I cannot," Gonzales said. "I ask that the full sentences be issued, and he spends the rest of his days without the possibility of parole."

Sheri Sparks, mother of Jackson and Tucker Sparks (stood with Tucker by her side)

"My boys were walking with their friends…I wish I would have known that the last hug I got from him was the last hug," Sparks said. "Every holiday, there will always be an empty chair where Jackson should be…It hurts to breathe sometimes…I'm emotionally and physically exhausted." Sparks finished by adding, "Jackson the other victims deserve closure."

Victim LLL (minor who was hit)

"How could you do this? Would you do this to your kids?"

Threat made to courthouse

After two minors spoke to the court, the entire courtroom was cleared after it was learned threats were made to the court through the dispatch center. The Waukesha County Sheriff's Department issued the following statement on this incident: 

"On Tuesday, November 15th, at 9:40am, the Waukesha County Communications Center received a phone call in which an unknown individual threatened a mass shooting at the courthouse. Security at the courthouse and on the County grounds were increased. The Darrell Brooks sentencing hearing was temporarily recessed, but resumed a short time later. The threat is currently under investigation by the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department, with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the City of Waukesha Police Department.  Anyone that is visiting the courthouse should anticipate increased times for security checks.  We want to thank the public for their patience during this minor disruption."    


Extra security at Waukesha County courthouse after threat made during Brooks sentencing

The hearing resumed around 11:15 a.m., and Judge Dorow offered an explanation for the disruption.  

"The sheriff has assured me that this building is quite safe. ‘Very secure’ were his words," Dorow said. 

Victim statements continued (excerpts)

Mother of children injured in the Christmas parade tragedy

"I saw absolute pain in my children's eyes…Brooks hit my children and never once stopped."

Kelly Grabow, daughter was marching

"(Brooks) has given us a life sentence of these memories," Grabow said. "As a parent, we are supposed to be able to protect our children, and that day, many of us were reminded of the ugly in this world; that no matter what we do, there will always be monsters like Darrell Brooks that are lurking around corners just waiting for a chance to play those parts in our nightmares. Yet even after causing this much pain and destruction, he wasn't even happy with that. He didn't stop there. He took it upon himself to be his own representation knowing full well he would be given the chance to question us as victims and rip open the wounds once again."

Katti Pudleiner, mother of Tyler Pudleiner (who marched in Waukesha South marching band)

"We have found a new family – 62 survivors and six who had their wings taken," Pudleiner said. She urged Judge Dorow to apply the maximum sentence to Brooks "so this community can heal and grow and never have to look back."


Katti Pudleiner

Tyler Pudleiner, was in Waukesha South marching band, injured in parade attack

"You did an amazing job throughout this process," Tyler said of Judge Jennifer Dorow. Tyler apologized for being critical of the judge during the trial – and later acknowledged her "sainthood" – referring her as "a mother and true hero to this community."

Sasha Catalan-Castillo, was in Waukesha South Marching Band

"I don't really know how to show my emotions anymore," Catalan-Castillo told the court. 


Sasha Catalan-Castillo

Donald Tiegs, father of Erick who was injured with Waukesha South Marching Band (read by proxy)

"You stated you are a God-loving man. You are not. A real man would have stopped and asked for forgiveness – pure evil and not fooling anyone."

Son of victim

"You are a monster. You deserve contempt and death. Sadly, with no death penalty in this state, I can only hope they lock you away some place so deep the rats chew on your fingers at night. As for me, this will never be over until the day I'm pissing on your grave. I think it would be fair to say that for your crimes, even God hates you."

Chris Owen, son of Lee Owen

"You have the audacity to say your conscience is clear. That is why you hear the term monster; demon," Owen said. "I know why you did this. You did this because you weren't in a cage…All I can ask is that you rot, and you rot slow."


Chris Owen

Michael Carlson, brother of Tamara Durand

"My sister was, stupidly, killed by you," Carlson said. "You have asked for the plaintiff many times. Here I am, Mr. Brooks. We, the people, find you guilty."

Brooks removed from court

Shortly after 1:30 p.m., Brooks was removed from the court after causing a disruption. Someone in the gallery shouted expletives at him. 

"It’s a very emotional day for everyone," Judge Dorow said after sending Brooks to an adjacent courtroom. "Respect needs to be what guides this courtroom."


Darrell Brooks

Victim statements resume 

Marshal Sorenson, son of Virginia Sorenson

"Brooks will never hold his grandson, good. My family will never get the chance to hug my mom one last time," Sorenson said. "You murdered my mom. I'm asking the judge that you should be in prison without parole."


Marshall Sorenson, son of Virginia Sorenson

Brooke, granddaughter of Virginia Sorenson

"When I first found out she was gone, I cried," Brooke said. "Darrell Brooks, you took her from us…Grammie, I will see you in my dreams."

Sean Sorenson, Virginia Sorenson's eldest son

"My mother, Ginny, was taken from us for no comprehensible reason," Sorenson said. "She was killed doing something she loved. We were denied the chance to be with her, but she was surrounded by the people who loved her…She will live on in our hearts."

David Sorenson, widower of Virginia Sorenson

"Now, I want you to use your imagination a little bit," Sorenson said. "When it thunders, I imagine that Jackson is blasting a home run over the fence. When there is a rainbow, I will imagine the Dancing Grannies -- Ginny, Tammy, Lee and Bill -- with them dancing along its lines. When there is a ray of sunshine poking through the clouds, I will imagine it is Jane smiling down on us. When it snows, like it did this morning, I will imagine God's love giving us a blanket in comfort. When I see a blue light, I see this community's commitment to help heal and support each other. "


David Sorenson

Taylor Kulich, daughter of Jane Kulich

"Her name was Jane. Jane Kulich. But for me, her name was ‘Mom.’ Mom and I were super tight. I could talk to her about anything," Taylor said. "Every day, I miss those text messages; see her face light up when I unexpectedly show up at her house…A piece of me is missing."

Aliesha Kulich, youngest daughter of Jane Kulich

"I'll never forget that day," Aliesha told the court as she spoke about her mother. "I've slept through most of Thanksgiving. Christmas was the worst of all. It was her favorite time of year. She was the woman who brought me into this world, and it didn't feel right celebrating without her…I wish I could say I don't carry anger in my heart. That's not true."

Greg Houston, family member of Jane Kulich

"Jane had spent 52 years on this Earth, but she was ripped away from us by you on her daughter’s birthday," Houston said. "Jane considered those close to her as family…Her people were everything."


Greg Houston

Carrie Houston, family member of Jane Kulich

"We will and never, could ever forget her. We mourn the fact that she missed her twins’ senior year and graduation…We miss the long weekly phone calls on Wednesdays and Fridays reminiscing about old times," Carrie said. "We miss her hugs, the smell of her hair, her trying to hold in a laugh when we would make faces at an inappropriate time."

Leanne Hollingsworth, mother of victim

"I want you (Brooks) to picture your daughter right now, your 8-year-old daughter, and I want you to picture a monster running over your own daughter," Hollingsworth said. "I cannot begin to expect a narcissist like you to understand what it’s like to sit in the ICU and stare at your daughter with tubes and monitors hooked up to her… not knowing if your daughter is going to wake up the same bright, bubbly girl she was before."

Alyssa Gajewski

"Throughout the whole trial, I waited for the defendant to cry, for him to show some sort of remorse," Gajewski said. "He has shown no remorse. Only a monster who should know remorse…He knew exactly what he did, and he just kept on driving…He’s a selfish and cowardly human being who deserves to never see the light of day again."


Alyssa Gajewski

Dylan Yourell, father of Xtreme Dance Team victims

"My children are healing, and the community is healing. We’re all in this together now," Yourell said. "All of us, the community. It isn’t just the people that live in Waukesha. For the sentencing, as other people said, I feel the maximum is appropriate in this situation. The terror, the horror, the pain, the fear that you’ve caused to so many individuals, and everyone has their own unique path for healing. I hope that you will get sentenced to what you deserve."

Jessalyn Torres, injured while dancing with the Xtreme Dance Team 

"I had to reteach my body to move how it used to move. Learning how to dance all over again, my balance was off, making dancing impossible at first, but the mental pain was worse," Jessalyn said. "When I went home, I wasn’t able to do normal 11-year-old things. I wasn’t able to swim. I wasn’t able to go on rides at fairs. All I could do was watch."

Amber Kohnke, mother of Jessalyn Torres

"The hardest moment of my life was making the phone call to my other children, so they could tell their sister how much they loved her because I had no idea what was coming next," Kohnke said. "I had no explanation to give them other than to tell their sister they loved her."


Amber Kohnke

D.A. Sue Opper's statement to the court

Following the victims' statements to the court, Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper spoke to the court. She began by rattling off Brooks' extensive criminal record. 

"This man has a history and a pattern of engaging in violence, and it was no different on Nov. 21, 2021," Opper said. "I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the attack, and I choose to call it an attack instead of referring to it as the parade. There’s nothing wrong with the parade. The parade is good. The parade is the embodiment of the community."

Opper went on to tell Judge Dorow Brooks' actions were acts of a coward.

"Very few of the victims who were struck had any idea this car was barrelling down on them," Opper said. "They had no way to know it was coming, and he mowed over them, ran them over without any ability to defend themselves. What is so offensive about this conduct, your Honor, is, obviously, the violent nature of it, but even more so, the defendant’s conduct and behavior in this court, his complete lack of decorum and respect for the court."

Opper stated in court Brooks takes advantage of everyone.

"He’s extremely manipulative. He absolutely thinks he’s in control of everything, when in fact, as he sits here in custody, he’s in control of nothing," Opper said.

What's ahead Wednesday

Judge Dorow set aside all of Tuesday in court to hear victim impact statements. Brooks has indicated he will have people speak on his behalf as well.

Because of the disruption surrounding the threat to the courthouse, the court was not able to hear from Brooks or the persons who are speaking on his behalf. 

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Judge Dorow indicated the sentencing of Darrell Brooks would resume at noon on Wednesday. 

After Brooks and his witnesses have had a chance to speak, she will hand down her sentence and explain her reasoning tied to the charges. In the end, Brooks faces the consecutive six life sentences plus 859 years in prison.

Brooks' apology to the court

Before court was recessed for the day, Brooks told Judge Dorow he apologized for his actions in court. 

"I apologize to you, your Honor, and the court," Brooks said. "I still understand that I have to conduct myself respectfully, so I apologize."

"I think the apology needs to be made to the victims, sir, more so than this court," Judge Dorow replied.