Janesville couple die after lightning strike near White House while on anniversary trip; 3rd death reported
JANESVILLE, Wis. (WMTV/AP) - A Janesville couple who were critically injured in a lightning strike outside the White House have died, police said Friday. Two others were also hospitalized with life-threatening injuries.
James (Jim) Mueller, 76, and Donna Mueller, 75, of Janesville, Wisconsin, died of their injuries after the lightning strike in Lafayette Park, located directly outside the White House complex, the Metropolitan Police Department said.
The couple were on a trip to the East Coast for their 56th wedding anniversary, a family member said. They were high school sweethearts.
A man who was with the Muellers at the time has also died, it was reported late Friday afternoon. While his name has not been released at this time, NBC News reports he is a 29-year-old from the west coast. Earlier in the day, D.C. police said the fourth person remained in critical condition.
Authorities did not reveal how the people were injured, other than to say they were critically hurt in the lightning strike. A law enforcement source told CNN they were riding out a severe thunderstorm under a tree.
Officers with the Secret Service and U.S. Park Police witnessed the lightning strike and ran over to render first aid, officials said. A portion of the park remained closed for more than an hour Thursday evening as emergency crews worked the scene.
Near their home, one resident called the incident a “tragedy in the neighborhood.”
“You’d never think that simply standing outside could take your life,” Jacqui Hein, who lives across the street from the Muellers, said. “It is just a shock to process that. It’s a shock to process that it happened to people that are so close to you.”
Family members, who requested prayers and privacy, said Jim owned his own drywall business for decades. Donna was a teacher who worked in multiple districts and most recently at a furniture store called the Comfort Shoppe in Janesville.
“She was 75 years old, but she definitely did not act elderly,” Shop Owner Barb Fairclough said. “She was vibrant and very energetic and just a lot of fun to be around... We’ll miss her a lot.”
Coworker Janice Verhulst said, “I spoke with her a day ago, and she was telling me all about her adventures in Washington and everything. She was just having the time of her life.”
Shortly after police reported the Muellers had died the White House released a statement expressing their sympathy for the families and offering prayers for the other two individuals, who had suffered life-threatening injuries.
“We are saddened by the tragic loss of life after the lightning strike in Lafayette Park,” the statement read. “Our hearts are with the families who lost loved ones, and we are praying for those still fighting for their lives.”
Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson also offered his condolences to the families in a tweet Friday morning, writing, “So sad to hear a Janesville couple were the victims of a lightning strike near the White House yesterday. My condolences, thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones”
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