U.S. Army veteran Ryan Kohnke of Waukesha, Wisconsin, shared chilling details Saturday night about Sunday’s horrifying Christmas parade tragedy that left his 11-year-old niece badly injured.
Kohnke, who served in Iraq, appeared on “Justice with Judge Jeanine,” where he told viewers about the moments leading up to young Jessalyn Torres being struck and lying on the ground – and her mother and other family members desperately waiting for medical assistance.
Then Kohnke told Judge Jeanine Pirro about the fate that he hoped awaited suspect Darrell Brooks, who faces intentional homicide and other charges in connection with the tragedy, which killed at least six people and injured more than 60.
Kohnke said he attended Brooks’ bail hearing last week.
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“To hear him start crying when the judge mentioned that these [charges] carried a life sentence, to me it was selfish that he did that, that he was worried about himself,” Kohnke said about Brooks. “But I hope that he spends the rest of his life in jail, in isolation, because I don’t think he’ll ever see general population [inside prison] because they’re afraid of what they might think will happen to him.”
“To hear him start crying when the judge mentioned that these [charges] carried a life sentence, to me it was selfish that he did that, that he was worried about himself.”
If Brooks is ultimately convicted on the intentional homicide and other accusations against him, “I hope he has a lot of time to sit in there and think about how he negatively impacted all of these people’s lives in this community for the rest of his life,” Kohnke said.
‘Everybody was just excited’
Earlier on Saturday’s broadcast, Kohnke told Judge Jeanine that Jessalyn – one of his sister’s children – had spent the night with his family in preparation for her appearance in last Sunday’s parade, along with other members of the Waukesha Xtreme Dance Team.
Kohnke said he and his own family were looking forward to seeing Jessalyn in the parade.
“It’s a big community start to the holidays,” Kohnke said about the annual event. “So everybody was just excited to kick off the holiday season.”
Judge Pirro then asked Kohnke to describe the moment when he first realized that something had gone horribly wrong.
“I was standing there with my kids and … I saw a red car break through the barricade on Main Street and he was a red SUV, he was right in front of us,” Kohnke recalled. “He had stopped for just a moment, a cop had tried to stop him. He didn’t listen to the police officer and he just gunned it down the street.
“Then I watched him speed from right to left, praying that he would turn off on one of the side streets. He had an opportunity to, and he didn’t.
“A cop had tried to stop him. He didn’t listen to the police officer and he just gunned it down the street.”
“I knew that my sister’s family had just walked by, just a few minutes earlier, and after I saw that he continued on the parade route I became very afraid for their lives.
As Kohnke spoke, Judge Jeanine appeared to hang on every word, gripped by the chilling details, which contrasted sharply with the family photos that appeared on the screen, showing a smiling Jessalyn posing with friends and family members before the day turned tragic.
Bleeding in the street
Kohnke then spoke about the shocking images he saw after Jessalyn and others were struck and left badly injured and bleeding in the street. Five people died at the scene and at least one other person died days later at a hospital.
“My daughters, what they saw was indescribable,” Kohnke said. “It was what you hear from veterans. There were bodies everywhere. There were clothes abandoned. Chairs, everything. Everybody was screaming, ‘Oh my God!,’ yelling for their children, yelling for their loved ones.
“You saw people trying to help people that were down. I was just trying to keep my kids focused on me.
“I saw Jessalyn’s older siblings first,” he continued, “And then I asked where the baby was. Nobody knew where she was, her 2-year-old sister.
“So then I looked over and I saw my sister over Jessalyn on the ground. I approached her, and what I saw terrified me and I lost it for a couple of seconds. And then I heard my kids scream after they had seen her and I just tried to get them away from her as quick as possible.
“I saw my sister over Jessalyn on the ground. I approached her, and what I saw terrified me and I lost it for a couple of seconds.”
“But then I saw that Jessalyn had … my sister works in the medical field, so she was with her and she was by her and so were some others and the EMT had just arrived.
“I wanted to get my kids and the baby out of that situation as quickly as possible – that was my goal after that, once I saw she was being treated.
Jessalyn suffered multiple serious injuries, including a fractured pelvis, fractured skull, detached kidney, contusions to her lungs, and lacerations on her liver.
‘Sick to my stomach’
Kohnke then told Judge Jeanine about the bail hearing for Brooks, where bail was set at $5 million after he was charged with five counts of intentional homicide. A sixth count was expected soon after a sixth victim, 8-year-old Jackson Sparks, died Tuesday, FOX 6 of Milwaukee reported.
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“After hearing everything that he had, when they read out all the charges that he had prior to what he did on Sunday, it made me sick to my stomach,” Kohnke said.
As of late Saturday eight children were still hospitalized after last week’s tragedy after one child was released Thursday and another child earlier Saturday. None of the children still being treated were in critical condition anymore, with four in serious condition, two in fair condition and two in good condition, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.