Janesville couple killed in lightning strike near White House was celebrating anniversary, family says

WASHINGTON — Law enforcement officials in Washington, D.C. say three people, including a couple from Janesville, died after being struck by lightning near the White House Thursday night.

Officials say 76-year-old James Mueller died at the hospital Thursday night, and 75-year-old Donna Mueller died early Friday morning as a result of the lightning strike. A third person has also since died, police told CBS affiliate WUSA-TV, and a fourth is still in critical condition with life-threatening injuries.

CBS News reports the third victim is a 29-year-old man. His name has not been released.

It was not immediately clear whether the third victim was related to the Janesville couple.

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The couple was in Washington, D.C. celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary, their niece Michelle McNett told News 3 Now. The two were high school sweethearts and were semi-retired. They had five children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“Both would do anything for their family and friends,” McNett said, adding the family is asking for prayers and privacy as they navigate through the sudden tragedy.

The White House released a statement Friday morning mourning the Muellers’ deaths.

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“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,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in the statement.

The School District of Janesville, where Donna Mueller worked, also issued a statement mourning the couples’ deaths.

“We are saddened to learn of the unexpected passing of Donna Mueller and her husband James,” district spokesperson Patrick Gasper wrote. “Donna was a long-time substitute teacher with the School District of Janesville, and we wish to convey our deepest sympathy to the Mueller’s family and friends. May their memories remain a blessing for us all.”

The lightning strike happened at Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. Officials said all four people were trying to take shelter from a severe thunderstorm under a tree when the lightning hit.

Officers from the Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police witnessed the lightning strike and immediately responded to give first aid, according to officials.