WAUKESHA, Wis. – Hundreds of people in Waukesha, Wisconsin, paid their respects Thursday night to 8-year-old Jackson Sparks at a memorial service nearly two weeks after the city's Christmas parade tragedy left the third-grader and five others dead and 62 others injured.
The ballplayer’s family urged other children to show up in baseball jerseys to memorialize him and to acknowledge his favorite sport.
And that’s what they did, from children appearing around his age to several adults and the NCAA team from Waukesha’s Carroll University.
The parking lot at BrookLife Church in Mukwonago filled up quickly – and people continued to stream in and out of the visitation at a steady pace on a cloudless, 50-degree evening in December.
Inside, dozens of people at a time lined up to share their condolences with Jackson’s parents at a closed-casket service.
The parents, Aaron and Sheri Sparks, stood beside a wooden coffin adorned with blue and white flowers and a Waukesha Blazers baseball cap and a bat, representing the youth team for which Jackson played.
Images cycled across a large screen above them, including one of Jackson with his dad in a dugout. There were about a dozen elaborate floral displays sent from members of the community.
A Mass card bore a quote from Isiah 41:10 on one side and showed a beaming Jackson on the other, in uniform and holding a baseball bat across his shoulders. Many children around the same age wore uniforms of their own at the service. So did a large contingent of police officers.
Someone set out Jackson’s baseball mementos across a table nearby, including a glove and his jersey. There were three guestbooks and a cardboard cutout of a baseball for mourners to sign. Next was a table with grief resources, including three children’s books and contact information for counselors.
He was the only child to have died from the Nov. 21 tragedy. The five other victims have been identified as Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; LeAnna Owen, 71; Virginia Sorenson, 79; and Wilhelm Hospel, 81. Another 62 people were hurt.
Jackson and his 12-year-old brother Tucker were marching with the Blazers baseball team when Darrell Brooks Jr. allegedly plowed through the Christmas parade in a red Ford Escape. Brooks remained held on $5 million bail and faces six counts of first-degree intentional homicide, with additional charges possible.
Tucker is expected to survive his injuries. The family will bury Jackson privately Friday.
Jackson loved sports, especially baseball, according to an obituary posted online. So his mom asked mourners to wear "#Jerseys4Jackson."
The Milwaukee Brewers, his hometown MLB team, announced that they’ll be wearing their jerseys on Friday to honor him, too.