Milwaukee's 'Dancing Grannies' among victims of Wisconsin Christmas parade

Pope Francis sends condolence message to victims as tributes pour in for dancing troupe

Four of the five people killed by an SUV racing through a Wisconsin Christmas parade on Sunday were affiliated with the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, a beloved pompom-thrusting dance troupe, according to a local newspaper.

Ginny Sorenson, 79, LeAnna Owen, 71, and Tamara Durand, 52, were members, while Wilhelm Hospel, 81, helped the group, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The fifth victim, Jane Kulich, 52, worked at Citizens Bank, according to her Facebook profile. Her page included posts about the birth of a granddaughter, as well as pictures of family, nature and cats.

In a message sending his condolences, Pope Francis said he hoped spiritual strength would overcome violence.

A message sent in his name by the Vatican secretary of state to the Roman Catholic bishop of Milwaukee on Tuesday said the pope wanted to assure his closeness to all affected.

"(The pope) commends the souls of those who died to almighty God's loving mercy and implores the divine gifts of healing and consolation upon the injured and bereaved," the message said.

"He joins you in asking the Lord to bestow upon everyone the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence and overcomes evil with good."

The five were killed when a man out on bail from a domestic abuse case and suspected in another violent altercation earlier that Sunday rammed a red SUV through the parade in the city of Waukesha, roughly 32 km west of Milwaukee.

Tributes began to flow in for the victims on Monday, with the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies paying homage on Facebook.

"Those who died were extremely passionate Grannies. Their eyes gleamed... [with the] joy of being a Grannie," read the message.

"Our hearts are heavy at this most difficult time."

Those who died were extremely passionate Grannies. Their eyes gleamed... [with the] joy of being a Grannie," read the message
Milwaukee Dancing Grannies

Sorenson, a registered nurse, was the group choreographer and had been working with Grannies for some 19 years, according to a feature on the group published by CBS 58 over the summer.

"She's like the heart and soul, honest to God," one dancer said of the grandmother of six.

"She keeps us on our toes."

In a photo posted in 2019, Sorenson, decked out in a fluffy white hat and thick blue winter skirt and coat, grins as she thrusts pompoms to one side and walks down a street.

"Being an instructor, that's a really important part of my life, especially now where I can't dance," Sorenson told CBS 58, explaining that she had had surgery, without going into details.

"I love it. And I love the ladies. They're my family, they're my friends."

Footage showed the group practicing in a parking lot, wearing red skirts and wide-brimmed hats. "You're all in sync," Sorenson called out.

"I told you, just like the Rockettes!"

Owen was another member of the group, which practiced once a week and performed at holiday events like July 4 or Christmas parades.

"It keeps us young," Owen said with a laugh in the CBS 58 interview.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Durand, 52, was also a member.

"Tammy was a mother of 9, grandmother of 4, and an emergency, critical care, and hospice Chaplain. She was a shining light for Jesus and strong in her faith," wrote a Facebook user from the account of a Texas-based magazine, Neighbors of Lakeway & Bee Cave.

Police arrested suspect Darrell Brooks, who they say rammed his SUV into the parade, killing the grannies along with one other male and injuring 48.

Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson said Monday that he is referring five counts of first-degree intentional homicide, among other charges, against Mr Brooks, who is expected to make his first court appearance Tuesday.

Mr Thompson said the suspect was not being pursued by police when the car rammed through the parade.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: November 24th 2021, 9:58 AM