Waukesha remembrance ceremony; year after Christmas parade tragedy

Waukesha marked one year since the parade attack that left six people dead and dozens more hurt with a remembrance ceremony at Cutler Park Monday evening, Nov. 21.

The ceremony was held at the Les Paul Performance Center beginning at 4:39 p.m. with silence to mark the exact moment when the attack happened in 2021.

"What started out as a joyful celebration changed to horror, shock and trauma," said Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly. 

"We continue to work on healing," Mayor Reilly added. "We are doing it together. We help those who need healing. We are standing with them, standing by them and praying for their recovery. We will continue to support one another."

"It's been a long year," said Dave Sorenson, husband of Virginia Sorenson, one of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies members killed in the parade attack. "But I do have my three children close to me." 

Sorenson said being in this crowd helped.

"It's unbelievable…what Waukesha and the people of Waukesha – they've been so nice," said Sorenson. "Very helpful to me, too." 

Sorenson added that the family will join the Dancing Grannies in the Waukesha Christmas Parade Dec. 4. It's the group's first parade in Waukesha since the attack, though they've danced in two dozen parades since. Police said it will come with added security. Sorenson said he knows some people might find it difficult to return to downtown Waukesha, but he said looking at the crowd at this vigil, no one in Waukesha will go through this alone.

"They should come and back the community, the Grannies and the community," said Sorenson. "We'll be there."

Speakers, including the mayor, Governor Tony Evers and the police and fire chiefs shared messages of strength with the crowd. The motto for the last year was "Waukesha Strong."

"The work of healing is never finished," said Gov. Evers. "No matter where you are in your healing, I hope tonight, you are reminded that you are not alone."

Waukesha Fire Chief Steve Howard spoke on behalf of first responders who sprang into action on Nov. 21, 2021. 

"I'd like to recognize the heroic efforts of the medical community in providing loving care for the injured; the hurt and wounded," Howard said. "This care was not only the night of the incident but also extended for many weeks as people required ongoing care."

"Prayer is an important part of what we're all about, and I think if there's anything that gets us through times like this, it's our faith. It's our prayer. It's people that talk about courage," added Father Patrick Heppe. "Waukesha has been strong much before this. Because if Waukesha wasn't strong a year ago, they could never have done what they did today."

Father Heppe marched with the Catholic Communities of Waukesha in the parade. Nineteen people in this group were hit. 

"I've always been impressed with the whole idea that God doesn't give us any more than we can handle with the help of faith and community," said Heppe. "That's what I see in Waukesha, a community coming together."

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Lastly, local artist Carmen De La Paz sang "Lean On Me" – and urged the crowd that had gathered to join her. She designed part of a permanent memorial for the victims, a symbol for a community left heartbroken.

"When you think of strong, you think of a closed, clenched fist," said De La Paz. "I wanted to open up the hands and be lifting up the community." 

As the ceremony wrapped up, Mayor Reilly asked everyone to again light their homes or businesses in blue lights as a show of unity and support for all the victims of last year’s tragedy.