A Janesville couple celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary with a trip to the nation’s capital were killed Thursday night in a lightning strike at Lafayette Park across from the White House, District of Columbia officials and a member of family.
The victims have been identified as James Mueller, 76, and Donna Mueller, 75.
The Associated Press reported that a third victim, a 29-year-old adult male, was pronounced dead on Friday. The fourth person, a woman, was in critical condition, police said. Their identities were not immediately revealed.
“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. “Our hearts are with the families who have lost loved ones, and we pray for those who are still fighting for their lives.”
Lightning struck just before 7 p.m. Eastern Time in Lafayette Park, which is across from the White House. Two men and two women were taken to hospitals, all with ‘severe life-threatening injuries’, DC Fire and EMS said in a tweet.
Spokesman Vito Maggiolo said the lightning was observed by members of the US Secret Service and US Park Police, who immediately responded to the scene.
A wedding anniversary trip
The Muellers were in Washington to celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary, said Michelle McNett, the couple’s niece.
“They were high school sweethearts,” McNett said. “They had quite a route (to Washington). They were supposed to be at Mount Vernon (George Washington’s property) today.”
McNett said the Muellers are retired.
Jim Mueller owned a drywall business. “He was still working here and there, but he was basically retired,” McNett said.
Donna was a retired teacher and worked part-time at a furniture store in Janesville, McNett said.
They were both from Cuba City in southwestern Wisconsin near the Mississippi River on the border of Iowa and Illinois.
McNett said the Muellers were part of a close-knit family.
They have five children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“Donna loved having family gatherings,” McNett said. “A few weeks ago they had an engagement party for one of their sons who is getting married (next year).
“Both would do anything for family or friends,” McNett added. “Jim would give you the shirt he has on his back.”
The couple loved to travel. “They loved seeing their family,” McNett said.
McNett also remembered the Muellers as great dancers. “At wedding receptions, they would come out (on the dance floor) and it was like ‘wow,'” she said.
McNett said the family was in shock at the couple’s sudden passing.
“You don’t even know what to say,” she said. “Just prayers.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Lightning was caused by a violent thunderstorm
Washington, DC, and surrounding areas were under a severe thunderstorm warning Thursday night when lightning struck the park, according to the National Weather Service.
Last year, 11 people were killed by lightning in the United States, according to the weather service.
Lafayette Park is a 7-acre park that was originally known as President’s Park. The land served as a construction area for the White House in 1800.
The park is a frequent site of political rallies and demonstrations.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Lightning strike near White House kills Wisconsin couple in Washington