The suspect in the Waukesha Parade attack had a history of domestic violence. That's not surprising, experts say

A woman who did not want to be identified looks at the flowers, clothing, toys and pictures left at Veterans Park by community members and loved-ones to commemorate those killed in the Waukesha Christmas Parade Tragedy Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021 in Waukesha, Wis.
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This story was republished on Jan. 17, 2022 to make it free for all readers.

The violence starts at home.

Then it spills out to the public.

The 39-year-old Milwaukee man charged in the Waukesha Christmas Parade attack, which left six people dead and more than 60 injured, had a history of domestic violence and violence against women.

Experts and advocates who help survivors of domestic abuse say it's a troubling pattern they've seen repeatedly in mass casualty events.

"Domestic violence — family violence — predicts mass shootings," said Karin Tyler, the injury and violence prevention coordinator for the City of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention.

Nearly 60% of 749 mass shootings between 2014 and 2019 were either domestic violence attacks or committed by men with histories of domestic violence, a 2020 Bloomberg analysis found. A peer-reviewed academic study released earlier this year had a similar finding: About 59% of the 110 mass shootings analyzed were related to domestic violence.

"Not all domestic abusers are this type of abuser, but in almost every mass shooting or mass killing, the person who committed it had a link to some sort of violence in their intimate partner relationships," said Carmen Pitre, president and chief executive of Sojourner Family Peace Center.

Although studies have focused on domestic abuse and mass shootings — not vehicle attacks — the connection is still relevant, said Sara Krall, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin's homicide prevention program director.

"It's the same dynamic," she said, "and clearly this perpetrator had shown previously that his vehicle was being used to perpetrate harm against his partner, still a weapon."

Earlier this month, the parade suspect was charged with driving over a woman during a domestic dispute, sending her to the hospital and leaving tire marks on her pant leg. The woman told police she thought the man was trying to kill her.

He was released on $1,000 bail Nov. 16 — five days before authorities say he plowed through the Waukesha Christmas Parade. He has since been charged with five counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the parade attack and officials expect to file more charges against him, including for a sixth death.

Authorities have not detailed exactly what happened before the driver rammed through barricades and began plowing through the parade procession. Waukesha's police chief said the driver had been involved in a "domestic disturbance" minutes before, but did not elaborate.

Studies have found mass shootings typically come after an "explosive event," Krall said.

"Perpetrators of domestic abuse may be at a stage of heightened anger, maybe further emboldened by the situation that just unfolded and may, unfortunately, extend the violence to others who are just in the path of their destruction," she said.

Shawn Muhammad, associate director of The Asha Project, which serves African American women in Milwaukee, said he was "not shocked at all" to learn about the suspect's history of domestic violence.

"When I see violent crimes one of the first things I look for is, I look to see if there is a history of domestic violence. Because there's always an intersectionality between domestic violence and homicides and other other crimes," he said. "So I'm not shocked, I'm not surprised at all."

Domestic violence: 'It could turn public in an instant'

While not surprised, experts acknowledged just how traumatic the incident has been to those who suffered losses and injuries, as well as for victims and survivors of domestic violence.

"Our attention is with all who are in shock, mourning, and grief — especially victims and survivors of domestic violence who are finding this time to be particularly challenging as details have emerged about the suspect having a history of domestic abuse," Monique Minkens, director of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, said in a statement this week.

"We see time and time again that people who use violence against their current or former partners are more likely to go on to commit acts of violence on a larger scale," Minkens said.

That's just one reason why everyone should be concerned about domestic abuse, said Natalie Hayden, a domestic violence prevention advocate and co-founder of EXPOSED, a podcast about life after domestic abuse.

"Everyone should take domestic violence extremely seriously. You see it in the workplace, you see it in the parking lot, you see it everywhere," she said. "And although it might not be in your personal private setting, know that it could turn public in an instant."

When Hayden was in the process of leaving an abusive partner, she was working at Potawatomi Hotel and Casino in Milwaukee. She changed her shift schedule and notified her employer of her former partner's description and car.

"I had to put them on alert," she said. "I didn’t know what he was going to do."

Muhammad said men have to be part of the effort to end domestic abuse.

"A lot of them are experiencing extreme anger and aggression, and, you know, for the most part is learned behavior," Muhammad said. "Sometimes it's mental illness compacted with learned behaviors."

Violence often continues unless it is interrupted in some way, experts said.

This can take the form of individual efforts, such as reaching out to friends and relatives who are in abusive relationships or standing up to loved ones engaging in abusive behavior. It also means a focus on societal efforts, like having community supports for victims and treatment for abusers, holding people accountable in the criminal justice system and focusing resources on the cases which show the highest likelihood of lethal violence.

But the first step is making ordinary people aware of the scope of the problem.

"Domestic violence is a predictable crime," Pitre said. "What was unpredictable about Sunday is that nobody knew he would be a mass killer in the way that he was. That’s the piece that is shocking and stunning.

"But he had shown in other instances that he was using violence," she said. "We know that violence will continue to repeat in people’s lives until they get held accountable or there some sort of healing."

Resources

The 24/7 Disaster Distress Helpline is available by call or text at 800-985-5990.

Text the Sojourner Family Peace Center's 24-hour confidential domestic violence hotline at 414-877-8100 or call 414-933-2722.

The Milwaukee Women's Center also offers a hotline at 414-671-6140.

The Asha Project, which serves African American women in Milwaukee, provides a crisis line from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 414-252-0075.

For Waukesha County resources, The Women's Center offers a hotline at 262-542-3828.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at (800) 799-7233 or by texting LOVEIS to 22522. For a full list of domestic violence resources across the state, go to endabusewi.org/get-help.

Contact Ashley Luthern at ashley.luthern@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @aluthern.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Waukesha Christmas parade suspect had history of domestic violence

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