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 family member said Friday.
The victims were identified as James Mueller, 76, and Donna Mueller, 75. Two other people, who have not been identified, were also critically injured in the incident. They remain in critical condition, a D.C. Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson told USA TODAY.
“We are saddened by the tragic loss of life after the lightning strike in Lafayette Park,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “Our hearts are with the families who lost loved ones, and we are praying for those still fighting for their lives.”
The lightning struck just before 7 p.m. Eastern time in Lafayette Park, which is across the street from the White House. Two men and two women were transported to hospitals, all with “critical life threatening injuries,” D.C. Fire and EMS said in a tweet.
Spokesperson Vito Maggiolo said the lightning strike was witnessed by members of the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police, who immediately responded to the scene.
A wedding anniversary trip
The Muellers were in Washington celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary, said Michelle McNett, the couple’s niece.
“They were high school sweethearts,” McNett said. “They had a whole itinerary (in Washington). They were supposed to be at Mount Vernon (George Washington’s estate) today.”
McNett said the Muellers were retired.
Jim Mueller had owned a drywall business. “He was still working here and there, but he was basically retired,” McNett said.
Donna was a retired teacher and was working part-time at a furniture store in Janesville, McNett said.
They were both originally from Cuba City in southwest Wisconsin near the Mississippi River where the state borders Iowa and Illinois.
McNett said the Muellers are part of a close-knit family.
They have five children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“Donna loved to have family gatherings,” McNett said. “They just had an engagement party a couple weeks ago 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 off his back.”
The couple loved to travel. “They loved to see their family,” McNett said.
McNett also remembered the Muellers as great dancers. “At wedding receptions, they would get out (on the dance floor) and it was like, ‘wow,’” she said.
McNett said the family is in shock at the sudden passing of the couple.
“You don’t even know what to say,” she said. “Just prayers.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Lightning was spawned by severe thunderstorm
Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas were under a severe thunderstorm warning Thursday evening at the time lightning struck the park, according to the National Weather Service.
Last year, 11 people were killed by lightning in the U.S., 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 staging area for the White House in 1800.
The park is a frequent site for political gatherings and protests.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Lightning strike near White House kills Wisconsin couple in Washington