Last night, when lightning struck four people in Lafayette Square, officers from the United States Park Police and the Secret Service happened to be on routine patrols nearby. They responded immediately, and their actions have been credited with saving the life of one victim (who remains hospitalized in critical condition) and aiding the initial survival of the three victims who later died.
We spoke with Captain Jean-Philippe Charles of the Secret Service Uniformed Division—whose wedding we coincidentally covered in 2019—about his experience responding to the lightning strike last night.
What exactly happened last night?
So during our afternoon shift yesterday, we had some inclement weather rolling over the White House. And during that, there were lightning strikes in the area. We had one particular officer doing what we call a “foot beat” on Pennsylvania Avenue directly in front of the White House. And he was the one that was able to observe the lightning strike and observe some individuals that appeared to be struck by the lightning and were in medical distress. And he immediately put that over the air. Once they put that over the air, of course, our officers jumped into action, as they always do.
As the watch commander on duty for the shift, I was in the office at the time. As soon as I heard that call, I immediately started putting on my raincoat and heading out there, because I knew anything dealing with any kind of lightning strikes is not going to be a good thing.
What was the scene like when you arrived?
The officers were already involved in rendering the emergency life-saving aid that these individuals needed. So once I got there, there was already CPR in progress. We had [defibrillators] on all the individuals, I believe some of the officers were even attempting to administer oxygen. It was like clockwork. They were working as a team. It was synchronized. They did a phenomenal job. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but our officers respond to medical emergencies almost on a daily basis.
What kinds of medical emergencies?
As Secret Service police officers, we [serve] the public space directly surrounding the White House. So we respond to calls such as stabbings, incidents involving guns, incidents involving individuals suffering from heatstroke, chest pains—any typical medical call that you can think of, we are exposed to in the areas around the White House. So our officers all undergo emergency medicine training during their academy training. And they also receive additional in-service emergency medical training throughout their careers. We even have some officers who go above and beyond that and become certified EMTs. And we definitely had some of those EMTs on the scene yesterday, who were providing some of those life-saving efforts.
Have you responded to lightning incidents before?
Yes. So the most recent one prior to this one was during the civil unrest back in 2020. There were two National Guardsmen who were assisting us with the civil unrest, and there was a lightning strike in Lafayette Park as well at that time. And we were able to get them medical treatment.
Was it a concern last night that officers might get struck attempting to provide aid during the storm?
It’s always a concern, but that does not deter officers from jumping in there and providing the assistance that folks need. That’s the last thing on their minds. It’s the same notion when there’s gunfire—the majority of the public runs away from it, and we run towards it. If there’s someone in medical distress, we’re gonna go in there regardless. We’re in and around the White House 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, regardless of weather, regardless of temperature, regardless of what’s going on. So I couldn’t be more proud of the response that they provided yesterday.