A 70-year-old couple celebrating their anniversary and a 29-year-old man died after a lightning strike near the White House during a storm Thursday night, authorities said. Another person is hospitalized with life-threatening injuries.
Lightning struck just before 7 p.m. in Lafayette Park across from the White House, according to the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
James Mueller, 76, and Donna Mueller, 75, both of Janesville, Wisconsin, died of their injuries, DC Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Brianna Burch told USA TODAY.
The third victim, 29, was pronounced dead on Friday. The fourth person, a woman, was in critical condition, police said. Their identities were not immediately revealed.
Authorities have not disclosed how the people were injured, other than to say they were seriously injured by lightning.
“We are saddened by the tragic loss of life following the lightning strike in Lafayette Park,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
All four were taken to hospitals with “serious life-threatening injuries”, DC Fire and EMS said in a tweet Thursday.
Spokesman Vito Maggiolo said the lightning was observed by members of the US Secret Service and US Park Police, who responded to the scene, DC Fire and EMS spokesman Vito Maggiolo said. .
Parts of the DC metro area were under a severe thunderstorm warning Thursday evening, according to the National Weather Service.
James and Donna Mueller were celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary with a trip to the nation’s capital when they died, said Michelle McNett, the couple’s niece. She remembered them as high school sweethearts who loved dancing and hosting get-togethers for their close-knit family.
Donna was a retired teacher who worked part-time at a Janesville furniture store while Jim owned a drywall business, McNett said. They had five children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“Both would do anything for family or friends,” McNett said.
There have been nine other lightning fatalities in the United States this year, John Jensenius, lightning safety specialist for the National Lightning Safety Council, said in an email to reporters.
The incident is the first lightning fatality in Washington, D.C. since 1991, when one person was killed and 10 others injured while sheltering near a tree during a lacrosse game, a he declared.
Jensenius said people should find a safe place to shelter, such as a building, whenever a thunderstorm hits their area. Sheltering under a tree can be dangerous because “lightning tends to strike the tallest object in the immediate area, which is often a tree”.
Contributor: Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY; Steven Martinez and Joe Taschler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; The Associated Press
Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.