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3 Dead After Apparent Lightning Strike Injures 4 Near White House

Three of the four people who apparently were hit by lightning near the White House on Thursday have died, Washington, D.C., police said in updates Friday.

James Mueller, 76, and Donna Mueller, 75, tourists to D.C. from Janesville, Wisconsin, were killed, police said Friday morning.

A 29-year-old man also died, police said later Friday. His name was not immediately released.

The Muellers were semi-retired high school sweethearts visiting D.C. for their 56th wedding anniversary, their niece told News4. James Mueller owned a drywall business, Donna Mueller was a teacher, and they had five children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. 

“Both would do anything for their family and friends,” niece Michelle McNett said. 

The four victims were left in critical condition after a flash of light and a boom erupted in Lafayette Park in Northwest D.C. as severe thunderstorms hit the region, fire officials said. D.C. police were expected to release more information about the condition of the fourth victim later Friday.

White House officials expressed their condolences and concern.

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

Four people have life-threatening injuries after they were apparently struck by lightning near the White House in Washington, D.C., Thursday evening, fire officials said.

U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Park Police officers rushed to help the victims when they saw the lightning strike, D.C. Fire and EMS Public Information Officer Vito Maggiolo previously said.

The victims were were near the center statue of former President Andrew Jackson, as well as a tree, Maggiolo said.

“I was just in a state of shock,” witness David Root said. “I just couldn’t believe it. Was surreal. I have never seen anything like this in my entire life.”

He described hearing “a horrific boom.”

Medics took the victims to hospitals. Maggiolo said he could not elaborate on their exact injuries.

“All we know for sure is that there was a lightning strike in their vicinity, in their immediate vicinity, and all four were injured,” Maggiolo said.

Thunderstorms moved through D.C. and surrounding areas about 6:30 p.m. Severe weather drenched parts of the region after a sweltering day of temperatures in the mid-90s and heat indices over 100.

Doctors, Tourists Rush to Help Lightning Strike Victims

A number of good Samaritans rushed to help the victims. 

Alexander Brands, a doctor visiting from Germany, said he and his wife were looking at the White House on the first day in the District when he heard thunder and then “saw people just falling down.” 

“Being a doctor working in an emergency unit, I ran over and tried to help,” he said. 

Brands said he did chest compressions on a woman and assisted as Park Police officers and Secret Service officers with automated external defibrillators (AEDs) tried to revive victims. 

Dr. Alister Martin, a fellow at the White House, said he was leaving work when the storm hit. 

“I heard thunder and saw the lightning at the same exact time and thought, ‘I’ve gotta get the hell out of here,’” he recalled. 

He then learned people had been hurt and knew he had to help.

“We began CPR and eventually were able to get two of the people’s heart rhythms back,” he said, calling the Secret Service officers’ actions heroic. 

Root said he sprang into action to save a man’s life.

“We saw several people beside a tree, and they weren’t moving, and so I ran over there to try to help,” he said. “Several people ran over there, and I gave him chest compressions with another person. We alternated.”

An emergency room nurse visiting D.C. on vacation also rushed to help, even as rain poured and lightning streaked across the sky. 

Lightning Strike Data and How to Stay Safe

A total of 444 people died in lightning strikes between 2006 and 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lightning strike deaths are most likely in the summer, and most often happen to people who are participating in outside recreation or work.

The National Weather Service says anyone should go inside if they hear thunder.

“Avoid open areas. Don’t be the tallest object in the area,” an NWS safety brochure says. “Stay away from isolated tall trees, towers or utility poles. Lightning tends to strike the taller objects in an area.”

Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.

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