3rd person struck by lightning near White House dies

A third person of the four who were hit by lightning Thursday evening in Lafayette Square, the public park right next to the White House, has died.

The D.C. police said the third victim of the lightning strike was a 29-year-old man. They haven’t provided any other information yet.

That’s in addition to James Mueller, 76, and Donna Mueller, 75, of Janesville, Wisconsin. By Friday afternoon, police confirmed that all four were struck by lightning.

The fourth person was in critical condition as of Friday morning, according to Lt. James Dingeldein with the U.S. Park Police.

“We are saddened by the tragic loss of life after the lightning strike in Lafayette Park,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “Our hearts are with the families who lost loved ones, and we are praying for those still fighting for their lives.”

The Muellers’ niece said that the pair were semi-retired high school sweethearts visiting D.C. for their 56th wedding anniversary. James Mueller owned a drywall business; Donna Mueller was a teacher, and they had five children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

The strike occurred as severe storms moved across the region bringing with them thunder, lightning and heavy rain.

“Upon arrival we found four patients,” said D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Vito Maggiolo. “All four were suffering critical, life-threatening injuries. We were able to quickly treat and transport those four individuals to area hospitals.”

The two men and two women were found near a cluster of trees.

Maggiolo stressed that their location was not safe during the severe weather.

“Anytime there’s lightning, you should go indoors or you should go to a safe place,” he said. “Trees of course are not safe places. So anybody who goes to seek shelter under a tree, that’s a very dangerous place to be.”

Officials with the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police were nearby and were able to help, Maggiolo said.

“I want to thank them because their agents and their officers witnessed this lightning strike and immediately began to render aid to the four victims,” Maggiolo said.

The incident was similar to one that happened a couple of years ago, when National Guard members were in D.C. due to protests in June 2020. Two members of the National Guard were injured when lightning struck in Lafayette Square, where they were stationed.

Among the most infamous lightning strikes in the District was a bolt that a crowd of 66,000 gathered at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium saw on June 13, 1998. Eleven people were injured that afternoon as they attended the Tibetan Freedom Concert.

According to the National Climatic Data Center, ample warning was provided to stadium officials; there was no place for those standing away from the protected portion of the venue to seek shelter.

The Associated Press and WTOP’s Mike Jakaitis and Dave Dildine contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

Colleen Kelleher

Colleen Kelleher is an award-winning journalist who has been with WTOP since 1996. Kelleher joined WTOP as the afternoon radio writer and night and weekend editor and made the move to WTOP.com in 2001. Now she works early mornings as the site's Senior Digital Editor.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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