Three people, including an elderly couple celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary, were killed by a lightning strike in a park near the White House.
Lightning struck Lafayette Square, a small park across the street from the White House, Thursday night local time, causing two men and two women with “seriously life-threatening injuries,” according to a statement from the Washington Fire and Emergency Management.
All the victims were taken to local hospitals, but on Friday morning, the Metropolitan Police confirmed the deaths of two of them – 75-year-old Donna Mueller and 76-year-old James Mueller of Janesville, Wisconsin.
Their niece, Michelle McKnight, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the couple were a high school sweetheart and were in D.C. for their wedding anniversary.
Police said a third victim, a 29-year-old man, died of his injuries.
The other adult remains in critical condition.
A White House spokeswoman said the Biden administration was “sad at the tragic loss of life.”
“We pray for those who are still fighting for their lives,” Press Secretary Karen-Jean-Pierre added in a statement.
The US Secret Service and the park police rushed to the aid of the four after they witnessed the strike, Fire and Emergency Services spokesman Vito Maguolo said in a statement posted on social media.
The victims appear to have sought protection from the storm under one of the park’s trees.
Trees are not safe places,” Maguolo told The Washington Post.
“Anyone who goes looking for shelter under a tree, this is a very dangerous place.”
Pictures posted by the department on social media showed several ambulances and at least one fire truck with flashing lights operating at the scene of the accident.
Witness David Root told NBC he heard a “horrific explosion.”
He was quoted as saying, “I couldn’t believe it.”
“It was surreal. I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life.”
He said he was also sheltering under a tree when he saw lightning striking across the garden.
He said people “didn’t move,” so he and others rushed to offer help.
The strike comes in the context of a severe thunderstorm that hit the US capital on Thursday evening.
According to the US Weather Service, lightning has killed an average of 27 people annually in the United States over the past decade.
Only about 10 percent of people who are struck by lightning die – usually of cardiac arrest – but many are left with permanent disability including neurological damage.
Originally published as three dead after being struck by lightning near the White House