Remembering victims of the Waukesha Christmas parade 1 year later

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) — One year later, the faith community’s coming together for strength.

The pastor at St. Joseph’s church said a year ago, a number of his parishioners were hospitalized — their futures back then, uncertain.

Even those who couldn’t walk 365 days ago are now back on their feet, praising God and a loving community.

Jason Pechloff’s telling his Catholic community he’s a thankful man. He had to learn how to walk again after he was hit by the SUV.

“I couldn’t remember who I was, and then couldn’t remember, I couldn’t have the feeling to walk either, so it was very disturbing at first,” said Pechloff.

Pechloff recalls his own struggles in those first months and seeing the suffering of others.

“It was a horrifying experience to come back a week later when I dropped my children off, and to see kids in crutches and walkers. It was like a war zone,” said Pechloff.

The war zone, a reality for Diamandina Gutierrez, who witnessed her 9-year-old son’s body fly through the air at the parade.

“I was devastated. The worst passed through my mind and a few seconds later, it was another person approaching me asking me if I was the wife and he was the son of the guy who was screaming and asking for his family,” said Gutierrez, whose husband and son were injured.

As these two look back on the past year, grieving the losses and celebrating the victories, these are the faces that have offered them strength.

“Loss is horrible, and I just want them to know that they’re not alone in their pain,” said Beth Ann Kulige of Waukesha.

“Just remembering the beautiful day we had last year, except for the parade,” said Susan Van Abel, of Waukesha.

St. Joseph’s held a prayer service on this sad anniversary.

“Sometimes silence and tears is the only way the healing comes,” said St. Joseph’s Fr. Matthew Widder.

Across town, Cutler Park held a moment of silence at exactly 4:39 p.m., and while it was quiet there, St. Joseph’s and other churches gave sound to the city at 4:39 with an incredibly moving six minutes of chiming bells.

“I need to finish the walk. I’m going back to the parade,” said Gutierrez.

“You hug your children a little tighter each night. You appreciate the little bit, the simple things in life,” said Pechloff.

Gutierrez’s son and husband have recovered from their physical injuries, but like so many others, the emotional scars linger.

Students from Catholic Memorial High School and Waukesha Catholic Elementary School also stood together in solidarity Monday, for a moment of silence to remember the souls who were taken on Nov. 21, 2021.

United in a circle, to symbolize that there is no end nor beginning, said a local priest, with faith, hope and love to conquer the dark times.

In remembrance, seven blue candles were lit during the Mass, as a symbol of Waukesha Strong — six to honor the lives taken, and one in honor of all the lives who were changed forever, impacted either physically and/or emotionally, by the tragedy.

“Those here understand the closeness of this community and the connectedness within this community,” said Donna Bembenek, president of Catholic Memorial. “What it demonstrated to the world is how special of a place Waukesha is.”

A defining moment that changed so many lives forever, and because of it, will always unite families and continue to be #WaukeshaStrong.

School officials added that this Wednesday, in their annual Crusade Day of Service, students will contribute about 1,500 hours of community service, serving a Thanksgiving meal to those in need, in honor of the lives lost and those who are still broken.

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