JANESVILLE, WIS. — A couple from Janesville, Wisconsin died after they were on their 56th wedding anniversary trip near in White House in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
The Metro Police Department reports that James Mueller, 76, and Donna Mueller, 75, died at the hospital after lightning struck near Lafayette Park near the White House.
A 29-year-old man later became the third fatality, Metro police say, though his name was not released. A woman is in critical condition.
Family tells TMJ4 News the Muellers were on their 56th wedding anniversary trip. They first met in high school in Cuba City, Wisconsin.
James, 76, was a retired drywall contractor. Donna, 75, a retired teacher. They raised five children – one daughter and four sons – in Janesville. They have 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. They were active with St. William Catholic Church.
The family is asking for privacy as they grieve the sudden death of the two most important people in their world.
“They were just the kindest, friendliest people,” said neighbor Jacqui Hein. “They would do anything they could to try and help you. You could tell how much they loved their family and community. I can’t believe this happened. Of all the things you worry about, then something like this happens as they’re standing outside on vacation. It’s just heartbreaking.”
A law enforcement source told CNN that the four were taking shelter under a tree when the lightning struck. They were near a statue of former President Andrew Jackson, fire department spokesman Vito Maggiolo said.
Emergency medical crews were called to the scene just before 7 p.m. and had transported all of the victims to the hospital with “critical, life-threatening injures,” Maggiolo said.
“I was just in a state of shock,” said a witness, David Root, NBC Washington, D.C. reports. “I just couldn't believe it. Was surreal. I have never seen anything like this in my entire life.”
Root described hearing “a horrific boom.”
The couple had five children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, according to the Associated Press.
Donna Mueller was a teacher and in retirement worked at the Comfort Shoppe, a local furniture store. Jim, 76, was a retired contractor who had his own drywall business.
Officers with the Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police witnessed the lightning strike Thursday night and ran over to render first aid, officials said. Emergency medical crews were called to the scene just before 7 p.m. and had transported all of the victims to the hospital with “critical, life-threatening injures,” fire department spokesman Vito Maggiolo said.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement, "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."
Thunderstorms moved through the city around 6:30 p.m. that evening. At least 444 people died in lightning strikes between 2006-2021, usually in the summer months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
This is a developing story. TMJ4 News will update this article as we learn more.