A father who attended the Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Sunday pushed his daughter out of the way to save her from an SUV barreling toward them before the driver plowed into a marching band and dance troupe.
Thomas Kluka Jr. told NBC's "TODAY" show that his family was seated at their usual spot on the parade route when he saw the car careening through the crowd and noticed "something wasn't right."
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"And then I seen kind of like, just, people flying, as I stood up," Kluka said in an interview Monday. "I’m like, 'oh no.' My daughter stood up, I threw her out of the way, and then I basically yelled 'get out of the way,' and my wife got out of the way, and by the time she did, the car came right past me, within at least two feet. I could’ve touched the car going by."
While Kluka narrowly avoided getting hit by the car, he said his only concern in the moment was pulling his daughter and her friend to safety.
"I wanted to get her out of the way," he said, adding, "If I had to get hit, I had to get hit, I was just making sure they got out of the way."
Asked whether he thought the driver was deliberately hitting people, Kluka told "TODAY" co-host Savannah Guthrie "that was his intention."
"Where we were sitting and there was a float between us and the curb, and he made it an effort to come towards us because he wanted to get around the float," Kluka said. "I don't know if it was to hit as many people as he can or… I don't know what the senseless intention was, other than just, you know, going the speed that [he] did."
At least five people were killed and more than 40 were injured in the attack that was captured by the city's livestream and the cellphones of onlookers. The city did not release any additional information about those who died. However, the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies posted on its Facebook page early Monday that some of its members were among the dead.
The group’s profile describes them as a “group of grannies that meet once a week to practice routines for summer and winter parades.”
“Our group was doing what they loved, performing in front of crowds in a parade putting smiles on faces of all ages, filling them with joy and happiness,” the post said.
“Those who died were extremely passionate Grannies. Their eyes gleamed ... joy of being a Grannie. They were the glue ... held us together.”
A “person of interest” was in custody, Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson said Sunday night, but he gave no details about the person or any possible motive. The investigation was ongoing, with assistance from the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
“What took place in Waukesha today is sickening, and I have every confidence that those responsible will be brought to justice,” Attorney General Josh Kaul, the state’s top law enforcement officer, tweeted.
One video shows the moment the SUV broke through the barricades and the sound of what appears to be several gunshots. Thompson said a Waukesha police officer fired his gun to try to stop the vehicle. No bystanders were injured by the gunfire, and Thompson said he did not know if the driver was struck by the officer’s bullets.
Another video shows a young child dancing in the street as the SUV speeds by, just a few feet from her, before it hurtles into parade participants a few hundred feet ahead. One video, of dancers with pompoms, ends with a group of people tending to a girl on the ground.
“There were pompoms and shoes and spilled hot chocolate everywhere. I had to go from one crumpled body to the other to find my daughter,” Corey Montiho, a Waukesha school district board member, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “My wife and two daughters were almost hit. Please pray for everybody. Please pray.”
A Catholic priest, multiple parishioners and Waukesha Catholic schoolchildren were among those injured, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee spokeswoman Sandra Peterson said.
Chris Germain, co-owner of the Aspire Dance Center studio, had about 70 people in the parade ranging from as young as 2 being pulled in wagons to age 18. Germain, whose 3-year-old daughter was in the parade, said he was driving at the head of their entry when he saw a maroon SUV that “just blazed right past us.” A police officer ran past in chase. Germain said he jumped out of his own SUV and gathered the girls who were with him to safety.
Then he walked forward to see the damage.
“There were small children laying all over the road, there were police officers and EMTs doing CPR on multiple members of the parade,” he said.