Three people, including an elderly couple celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary, have died after being struck by lightning in a park near the White House.
Lightning struck Lafayette Square, a small park across from the White House, Thursday night local time, leaving two men and two women with “life-threatening injuries,” according to a statement from Washington’s Fire and Emergency Department.
All of the victims were taken to local hospitals, but on Friday morning the Metropolitan Police confirmed that two of them – 75-year-old Donna Mueller and 76-year-old James Mueller of Janesville in Wisconsin – had been pronounced dead.
The couple had been high school sweethearts and were in the capital to celebrate their wedding anniversary, her niece, Michelle McNett, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Later on Friday, a third victim, a 29-year-old man, also succumbed to his injuries, police said.
The other adult remains in critical condition.
A White House spokeswoman said the Biden administration was “sad of the tragic loss of life.”
“We pray for those who are still fighting for their lives,” spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre added in a statement.
U.S. Secret Service and park police rushed to the four’s aid after witnessing the strike, Fire and Emergency Services Department spokesman Vito Maggiolo said in a statement posted to social media.
The victims had apparently sought shelter from the storm under one of the park’s trees.
“Trees are not safe places,” Maggiolo said Washington Post.
“Anyone sheltering under a tree is a very dangerous place.”
Photos posted by the department on social media showed several ambulances and at least one fire truck with lights flashing, working at the scene.
Witness David Root told NBC he heard a “terrible bang.”
“I just couldn’t believe it,” he was quoted as saying.
“Was surreal. I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life.”
He said he also hid under a tree when he saw the lightning strike in the park.
People “weren’t moving,” he said, so he and others ran over to help.
The strike was part of a severe thunderstorm that hit the American capital on Thursday evening.
According to the US Weather Service, lightning has killed an average of 27 people a year in the US over the past decade.
Only about 10 percent of people struck by lightning are killed — typically by cardiac arrest — but many are left with permanent disabilities, including neurological damage.
Originally posted as Three people dead after being struck by lightning near the White House