WAUKESHA, Wis. — Guitar For Life Cafe was one of the only unlocked doors on West Main St. in downtown Waukesha on Monday morning, so I stepped inside to buy a cup of coffee. It quickly became clear the shop wasn’t actually open for business.
The cafe was dark behind the front counter, with a handful of people scattered among the wooden hightops and stools, nursing paper cups of steaming coffee. It wasn’t immediately apparent when they were all doing there. A kind man pointed me in the direction of the complimentary dispenser: “Help yourself.”
I soon learned his name was Dan Faustmann. He’s been downtown for 14 years and has had the cafe and guitar studio on the corner of Main St. and West Broadway for two. On Monday, he opened his shop for chilly members of the press to warm up and anyone else in the community who needed a place to go to process what they’d all been through just hours before.
A tear rolled down his cheek as looked out the window at the abandoned strollers, lawn chairs, and blankets strewn across the curb along the street marked with candy and chalk circles, recounting the harrowing events of Sunday night, when an SUV plowed into the crowd, killing five and injuring at least 48, according to police.
When Dan and his wife Becky, who is a nurse, saw the SUV barrel down the route of the annual Christmas parade, their first impulse was to run out into the street. Becky tended to victims, helping to load injured people into squad cars when ambulance space ran out, while Dan ushered terrified families into his store for protection.
Dan and Becky ran toward danger to help others, and if you’ve seen any of the gut-wrenching footage from the deadly parade, you know they aren’t the only ones. Video shows that the moment disaster struck, countless bystanders immediately lurched into the road to aid the fallen.
This kind of selflessness seems to characterize the Waukesha community, population 70,000. At every step — from the moment of tragedy, to the immediate aftermath, to the community-wide vigil and preparations for the long road of grief ahead — the people of Waukesha have answered the call of an unwanted challenge and offered a testimony of hope and resilience to a watching world.
Bridge Church in Waukesha, which is only about a mile from downtown and near Waukesha South High School, opened its doors on Sunday night for people to grieve and pray. Church office manager Michelle Pope told The Federalist that only about 20 minutes after blasting out on Facebook that the building would be open, roughly 70-75 people gathered.
On Monday, it opened its building again to the hurting community and plans to do the same on Tuesday. Church volunteers helped Pizza Ranch pack lunches for first responders and passed out hot chocolate at Cutler Park as community members attended the vigil in below-freezing temperatures.
“We just want to be available,” Pope said.
Lakewood Baptist Church in neighboring Pewaukee opened its doors on Sunday night too, after four of its families were reportedly at the parade and two of its children participated in it. A church in nearby Muskego, The Church in Wisconsin, attended the Monday evening vigil with their hands full, passing out water and hot apple cider to numb attendees.
Two other ladies offered hot cider and cookies as a way of “giving back” to community members at the vigil, and when asked which organization they were representing, they declined to provide a name.
“This is for the community, not us today,” one of them replied.
This duo is passing out apple cider and cookies during the vigil but won’t say what organization they’re with because “this is for the community, not us today”
This selflessness has been a theme in Waukesha. pic.twitter.com/oiTrJd2tDx
— Kylee Zempel (@kyleezempel) November 22, 2021
Amid such an unspeakable tragedy, the prevailing atmosphere among the streets of Waukesha is still somehow one of light, not darkness. As one vigil attendee told The Federalist, even those who aren’t part of the city or those who can’t help in any other way can still pray — and that’s something.
“Last night, our wonderful Waukesha Parade became the scene of a horrific tragedy. Last night, that parade became a nightmare. Last night, many were severely injured. Last night, lives were lost during the middle of what should have been a celebration,” said Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly. But that isn’t the end of the story.
“So often, we focus on the perpetrator. So often, we focus on the evil. And when we do that, we completely miss all the people that are helping,” Reilly continued on Monday at the vigil. “Waukesha Strong is a good way to put it. We rose to the occasion.”