Police have identified the deceased as Donna Mueller, 75, and James Mueller, 76, a married couple from Wisconsin. The others remain in critical condition, police said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement: “We are saddened by the tragic loss of life following the lightning strike in Lafayette Park. Our hearts are with the families who lost loved ones. dear ones, and we pray for those who are still fighting for their lives.”
A relative of the couple, reached Friday morning in Wisconsin, said family members were not yet ready to talk about the two in depth. The Muellers were the parents of five adult children and also had grandchildren and great-grandchildren, according to the parent, who declined to be named. She said the couple were alone in Washington as tourists and had no connection to the other two people injured in the lightning strike under the tree.
The lightning was triggered by a severe thunderstorm that swept through the district just before 7 p.m. The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for much of the Beltway area between 6.30pm and 7.15pm, warning of the threat of damaging gusty winds. up to 60 mph and quarter sized hail.
Chris Vagasky, an analyst with Vaisala, which operates a nationwide lightning detection network, said in a post that there was a “6-shot flash near the White House that hit the same spot on the ground” at 6:49 p.m. He explained that this means six individual electrical surges hit the same point on the ground in half a second.
Vagasky tweeted that between 2010 and 2021, “289 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occurred within one mile of the White House, an average of 24 per year”.
“This incident underscores the need for people to travel to a safe location whenever a thunderstorm occurs in the area,” John Jensenius, safety specialist with the National Lightning Safety Council, said in an email. “Even a distant rumble of thunder should serve as a warning to immediately step inside an important building or hard-topped metal.”
Lightning kills 23 people in the United States in an average year. Thursday’s fatalities in the district brought the 2022 lightning toll to 11, matching the 2021 total. According to the Lightning Safety Council, this is the first fatal lightning incident in the district since 1991, when a teenager was killed and 10 others were injured at St. Albans school in northwest Washington.
In June 2020, two National Guardsmen were injured in a lightning strike near 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest Washington. In 1998, a a woman was seriously injured and other spectators injured when lightning struck the RFK stadium during a concert.
July and August are the peak months for lightning in the United States.
Numerous thunderstorms, containing frequent lightning, erupted in the region Thursday evening after temperatures soared into the upper mid-90s earlier in the day, prompting a heat advisory. Heat indices, a measure of how hot it feels with humidity taken into account, reached 100 to 110 degrees.
Thunderstorms are again forecast for the Washington area on Friday and through the weekend. The weather service issued a flood watch for the area Friday afternoon and evening.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Clarence Williams and Emily Davies contributed to this report.