A Janesville couple celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary with a trip to the nation’s capital died Thursday night a lightning strike in Lafayette Park across from the White HouseDistrict 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 seriously injured in the incident. They remain in critical condition, a DC Metropolitan Police Department spokesman said told the US TODAY.
“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 the street from the White House. Two men and two women were transported to hospitals, all with “critical life-threatening injuries”, DC Fire and EMS said in a tweet.
Spokesman Vito Maggiolo said the lightning strike was witnessed by members of the US Secret Service and US park police, who immediately arrived on 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 cuties,” McNett said. “They had a whole itinerary (in Washington). They would be on Mount Vernon (George Washington’s estate) today.”
McNett said the Muellers were retired.
Jim Mueller had owned a drywall business. “He still worked 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 originally from Cuba City in southwestern 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, ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“Donna loved having family gatherings,” McNett said. “They had an engagement party a few weeks ago for one of their sons who is getting married (next year).
“Both would do anything for family or friends,” added McNett. “Jim would give you the shirt off 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 got out (on the dance floor) and it was like ‘wow,'” she said.
McNett said the family is in shock at the sudden death of the couple.
“You don’t even know what to say,” she said. “Only prayers.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Lightning was produced by violent thunderstorm
Washington, DC and surrounding areas were warned of a severe thunderstorm Thursday night as lightning struck the park, according to the National Weather Service.
Last year, 11 people were killed by lightning in the US, according to the weather service.
Lafayette Park is a 7-acre park originally known as President’s Park. The land served as a construction site for the White House in 1800.
The park is a frequent venue for political rallies and protests.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Lightning strike near White House kills Wisconsin couple in Washington