MILWAUKEE — The man who turned a quaint, small town Christmas parade into a blood-soaked nightmare that left six dead and over 60 injured is a career criminal who’s spent more than half of his life trapped in a revolving door of incarceration, drug abuse and violence.
Darrell Brooks, 39, allegedly used a red Ford Escape to plow through revelers at an annual Christmas celebration in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Sunday, but his life of crime started 22 years ago when he was just 17 years old.
Over the next two decades, Brooks would proceed to wreak havoc across three states as he racked up convictions for abusing his partners, raping and impregnating a teenager and a consistent streak of other violent crimes.
A review of his history — patched together from court documents, criminal records, interviews and public records — reveals that all along the way, not a single social safety net caught him, until it was too late.
The cycle of tragedy
Brooks was just 11 years old when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression while growing up in the inner-city of Milwaukee without his father, court records show.
He was admitted to a mental hospital at 12 and attempted suicide numerous times in his early years after losing his grandmother and watching his father abuse his mom, papers say.
“I didn’t have a father growing up, so my mom was stuck raising me and my older sister. We were on welfare for most of my childhood,” Brooks wrote in a 2007 letter to a judge.
“My father was an alcoholic who was very abusive to my mom. My father’s dad was also an alcoholic,” he wrote. “I grew up in the inner-city full of drugs and prostitution.”
Brooks claimed in the letter that his mother, a Christian woman with Southern roots, steered him away from trouble on the streets but despite her best efforts, Brooks would go on to follow in his father’s footsteps.
He eventually became an addict, a habitual domestic abuser prone to violence and threats — and used a vehicle as a weapon on numerous occasions, authorities said.
Brooks lamented to the judge in his 2007 letter that he knew what it was like “to have your own flesh and blood walk out on you” and claimed he just wanted to give his kids what he never had: “a father.”
But by then, Brooks had already abandoned his firstborn son before the child was 3 months old.
“He disappeared,” the kid’s mother told The Post during a recent interview. “I’ve done all of this on my own, raised my child by myself.”
The woman initiated a paternity case in Waukesha County for failure to pay child support that is still ongoing to this day.
A life of crime
A year after Brooks was charged with his first felony in 1999 at age 17 for substantial battery intending bodily harm, he was given three years of probation. But he soon found himself tangled up in the law once again, being hit with misdemeanor charges in 2002 and 2003 over separate incidents.
In 2005, he moved to Reno, Nevada, in a bid for a fresh start but within a year, he was charged with statutory sexual seduction and contributing to the delinquency of a minor after he raped and impregnated a teen girl who he claims told him she was 18 at the time.
He settled the case by pleading guilty but was ordered not to contact the victim — a requirement he repeatedly violated by calling the teen using a stolen phone card and confronting her at a bus stop, landing him back in jail where he served just 129 days, records show.
As a result of that conviction, Brooks was forced to register as a sex offender in the state and during his time behind bars, he participated in a 2007 documentary called “Crystal Darkness.”
He told filmmaker Logan Needham about his struggles with methamphetamines and his failures as a father.
“I thought I would be this wonderful father, the greatest dad ever … I’m going to give him everything that I didn’t have. Then it’s like, reality setting in. You actually become the drug,” Brooks said in the film of his addiction.
Needham told The Post he recalled Brooks “seemed very genuine” in his desire to turn his life around.
“We interviewed people who killed and other really bad stuff, and now they were reaping the consequences from that,” Needham said this week. “It was always very sad. But with [Brooks], I felt like he definitely had remorse. And I think he felt bad about the decisions he had made to land him where he was.”
Needham said over the years, he would sometimes get updates on the inmates he interviewed, but he lost track of Brooks and said he was shocked to hear he was the suspect connected to the Waukesha Christmas parade tragedy.
Between 2009 and 2011, Brooks was in and out of jail for a series of crimes, including resisting or obstructing an officer, strangulation and suffocation.
During a 2011 bust, he was charged with restricting or obstructing an officer for a second time after he was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt.
“As Brooks began to drive away while the officer was talking to him, the officer got inside the car and wrestled for control of the steering wheel.”
Eventually, the officer stopped the car and removed the keys as Brooks ran off. He was later found hiding in a children’s playhouse on the same block and was taken into custody.
In 2016, Brooks was busted again for failing to register as a sex offender and in July 2020, he fired a gun at his nephew during a fight over a cellphone.
Anaji Brooks told police he got into a friend’s car following the dispute and was driving away when his uncle “walked into the front yard with a gun and fired one shot at them,” leaving the man in fear of his safety, court papers say.
Officers soon found Brooks with a stolen Beretta 9mm handgun and a clear plastic baggie with three multi-colored methamphetamine pills inside, records show.
He was charged with two counts of second-degree recklessly endangering safety and use of a dangerous weapon and was ordered to stay away from his nephew and his mother.
In a victim impact statement obtained by the Daily Mail, the nephew wrote that the encounter “made me come to the conclusion that this man wasn’t family or kin to me.”
Brooks was facing 10 years behind bars for the crime — the heaviest sentence he faced so far but when the court was unable to guarantee him a speedy trial due to a backlog of cases and COVID-19-related delays, he was released in February 2021 on a $500 bail.
From there, Brooks went to Georgia, where he was arrested for misdemeanor battery with a designation of family violence a little over three months after he got out of jail, prosecutors said in a Waukesha courtroom on Tuesday.
The final straw
Following Brooks’ troubles in Georgia, he made his way back to Wisconsin, where his penchant for violence bubbled up again while he was staying at the American Inn motel in Milwaukee’s Lenox Heights neighborhood with his ex-girlfriend.
Brooks allegedly accosted the woman and knocked her cellphone out of her hand and then went after her in his Ford Escape when she fled.
He caught up with her at a BP gas station about a half mile from the motel and demanded she get in his car, court records allege. When she refused, he struck her in the face and then ran her over with his car, leaving the woman with “swelling to her lip and dry blood on her face” and “tire tracks on her left pants leg,” police said.
The ex-girlfriend later told cops that Brooks had allegedly threatened to kill her on multiple occasions, had previously tried to choke her and was jealous and controlling, according to police reports obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Brooks denied the allegations and suggested to police the woman made them up because she was drunk.
He ended up being charged with recklessly endangering safety, bail jumping, battery and disorderly conduct in the incident but was given an “inappropriately low” bail of $1,000, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm later said, leaving him free to wreak havoc on the Christmas parade about three weeks later.
Around 4:35 p.m. that Sunday, the Waukesha Police Department was alerted to another domestic disturbance involving Brooks and the ex-girlfriend in the vicinity of White Rock School.
But by the time cops could respond, it was too late.
As Brooks desperately drove away from the school, he barreled toward the Christmas parade, smashed through barricades and plowed through revelers and marchers celebrating the annual event with “no emotion on his face,” police said. He left six people dead — the youngest being 8-year-old Jackson Sparks — and dozens more injured, many who are still hospitalized.
“There are not words to describe the risk that this defendant presents to our community,” prosecutor Susan Opper told Waukesha County Court Commissioner Kevin Costello during Brooks’ initial hearing.
“Not only flight risk but the dangerousness that he presents, his history of violence and the allegations in this complaint where it is stated plainly that on several occasions he was told to stop by police officers,” she said. “Everything was done to get him to stop, and he just simply continued down the roadway, causing death and destruction in his path.”
Brooks was charged with five counts of first-degree intentional homicide but Opper said he will be hit with a sixth charge following the death of the youngest victim, 8-year-old Jackson Sparks, who had been in critical condition after the attack.
Each homicide count carries a potential sentence of life behind bars without parole.
“I’m an old guy who has been doing this for almost 40 years,” the court commissioner said during the hearing. “The nature of this offense is shocking … I’ve not seen anything like this in my very long career.”
Additional reporting by Dan Good