D.C. lightning strike survivor had been fundraising for refugees


All day lengthy, the tall, leafy tree had been a supply of shade and luxury for Amber Escudero-Kontostathis.

Amid 90-some diploma warmth, she’d spent hours canvassing vacationers in entrance of the White Home for donations to assist refugees in Ukraine, her household stated. As she completed her shift on Thursday final week, a storm gathered overhead, thickening with clouds, rain and thunder.

That Thursday occurred to be her twenty eighth birthday, her household stated. So whereas Amber waited for her husband to choose her up for a celebratory dinner, she sought shelter as soon as once more from the identical tree, huddling with three others beneath its outstretched branches, based on her household and authorities.

Three folks lifeless after lightning strike Thursday close to White Home

One was Brooks Lambertson, a younger and rising financial institution vice chairman from Los Angeles. There was Donna Mueller, 75, a retired trainer, and her husband James Mueller, 76, who got here from Wisconsin to Washington to have a good time their 56th wedding ceremony anniversary. And there was Amber, a younger girl from California whose travels within the Center East educating English had kindled a need to assist these suffering from conflict and poverty in that area.

They have been strangers delivered to that exact spot on the east aspect of Lafayette Sq., at that exact second for various causes — enterprise, trip, a ardour to assist.

Simply earlier than 7 p.m., it was at that spot — beneath a leafy tree about 100 toes from a statue of President Andrew Jackson — that lightning struck.

Specialists recorded a lightning flash within the space as six particular person surges of electrical energy that hit the identical level within the area of half a second. If the electrical energy struck the tree first, specialists stated, it could have despatched a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of volts coursing by way of it earlier than passing into and over the our bodies of these gathered beneath it.

“It shook the entire space,” an eyewitness later recounted. “Actually like a bomb went off, that’s the way it sounded.”

The strike left all 4 grievously wounded. Secret Service and U.S. Park Police — who maintain the park in entrance of the White Home beneath fixed patrol — ran to assist.

On Friday morning, police introduced the aged couple from Wisconsin had died. Later that night time, the banker from Los Angeles additionally handed away, police stated.

Amber can be the only real survivor.

What occurs when lightning strikes — and the right way to keep protected

The lightning strike stopped Amber’s coronary heart, stated her brother Robert F. Escudero. Two nurses, who occurred to be visiting the White Home on trip and noticed the Secret Service operating to assist, instantly began giving her CPR and managed to revive her pulse, he stated.

The lightning induced extreme burns alongside the left aspect of her physique and arm, her household stated. That’s the aspect her bag was on, carrying the iPad she used to signal folks up for refugee donations.

Her dad and mom rushed to Washington from California, and her mom has documented her combat to get better on Fb. The lightning strike left Amber struggling at first to breathe, wrote her mom, Julie Escudero. However by Friday, nurses have been in a position to take her off the ventilator.

The lightning additionally broken her short-term reminiscence. She was scared and confused about what occurred to her. “We undoubtedly don’t need her to recollect the incident proper now,” her mom wrote on Fb. However each time she wakes up, her mom wrote, she asks what occurred to her, is she going to die, and can she be capable of stroll? Her household stated one factor she has been notably frightened about is her work fundraising for refugees.

She had majored in worldwide research in faculty and traveled to Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, based on her brother and her work profile. She spent a 12 months educating English in Jordan and shortly after started fundraising for nonprofits. She began working in Washington final 12 months for a gaggle known as Threshold Giving and centered particularly on fundraising for the Worldwide Rescue Committee, a worldwide aid company.

“The very first thing she advised me after we FaceTimed is, ‘I must get again to work on Saturday,’” Robert Escudero stated. “She’s frightened about elevating cash for the refugee children. She requested me, ‘Who’s going to get the cash for them if I’m not on the market?’”

A buddy began a GoFundMe web page to boost cash for her medical payments. So her brother stated he promised Amber he’d work with Threshold Giving within the coming days to additionally create a manner for individuals who find out about her survival story to donate to refugees.

The one factor her household has not but broached together with her is the destiny of the others who have been together with her that night time beneath the tree.

“She is beginning to notice there have been others and he or she desires to know the way they’re doing and what she did flawed,” her mom stated in a Fb put up on Sunday. “She cares a lot for others, it will likely be arduous for her.”

On Sunday, many indicators of the deadly lightning strike have been nonetheless seen at Lafayette Sq..

A tree bore streaks of charred bark, cracks and a big gash in the principle trunk the place the wooden remained warped like a bruise. People passing by way of Lafayette Sq. paused on the tree to stare on the scars.

Considered one of them was Cal Vargas, a childhood buddy of Lambertson, who died. He introduced a wreath and bouquet of white flowers to put on the base of the tree. Vargas and Lambertson had been associates since kindergarten and grew up collectively in Folsom, Calif., the place they shared a ardour for sports activities and the Sacramento Kings.

“He was an incredible particular person,” Vargas stated quietly. “At all times had a smile on his face, at all times appeared on the vivid aspect of issues.”

Earlier on the day the lightning struck, Lambertson, 29, had arrived in Washington on a enterprise journey from Los Angeles. He was passing time earlier than a dinner reservation when he acquired caught within the storm, Vargas stated.

In a telephone interview, Lambertson’s father, whom The Washington Publish will not be figuring out by identify to guard his privateness, stated his son was “most likely the most effective human being that I do know.” He stated his son’s kindness, generosity and humility “confirmed up in all the pieces he did, in all his interactions with folks.”

He labored at Metropolis Nationwide Financial institution as a vice chairman managing sponsorships for the corporate. He had completed advertising for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, and graduated from California Polytechnic State College in San Luis Obispo, based on an announcement from the financial institution.

The aged Wisconsin couple who additionally died that day have been celebrating their 56th wedding ceremony anniversary, members of the family stated.

Donna Mueller, 75, and her husband, James Mueller, 76, had been highschool sweethearts earlier than marrying. James had owned a drywall enterprise for many years whereas his spouse labored as a trainer, based on one in every of their daughters-in-law, who additionally spoke on the situation of anonymity to guard her privateness.

The couple lived in Janesville, Wis., about 70 miles west of Milwaukee, and had 5 grown kids, 10 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. “Each would do something for his or her household and associates,” kinfolk stated in an announcement.

The chances of somebody being killed by lightning are extraordinarily uncommon. Up to now decade, solely a mean of 23 folks in america have died annually.

A number of fatalities are much more uncommon. Earlier than final week’s strike, the final time three folks died in a single incident was greater than 18 years in the past on June 27, 2004, when three folks in Georgia have been struck beneath bushes at Buford Dam Park, stated John Jensenius, a specialist on the Nationwide Lightning Security Council.

As a result of lightning tends to strike tall objects, specialists warn that taking shelter beneath a tree throughout a thunderstorm is extremely harmful. When a tree is hit by {the electrical} cost, moisture and sap within the tree simply conduct the electrical energy, carrying it to the bottom across the tree, specialists say.

“When lightning strikes a tree, the cost doesn’t penetrate deep into the bottom, however relatively spreads out alongside the bottom floor,” Jensenius stated. “That makes your entire space round a tree harmful, and anybody standing beneath or close to a tree is weak.”

For that and different causes, Amber’s survival has felt miraculous, her household stated. If it hadn’t occurred in proper in entrance of the White Home the place Secret Service brokers are stationed. If the 2 nurses who revived her hadn’t been on trip and seen what occurred.

On Saturday night time, Amber was lastly in a position to take a couple of steps on her personal, her household stated. She was supposed to begin a grasp’s program in worldwide relations this fall at Johns Hopkins College — the newest step in her work attempting to assist refugees and people struggling overseas.

“She’s an incredible, strong-willed particular person. And he or she has such a coronary heart for others,” her brother stated. “So the objective now’s to get her strolling once more by the point lessons begin in a couple of weeks.”

Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

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