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'We all screamed': Volunteers recall lightning strike near Fort Meade

Staff writer

The rain came down harder and the wind picked up, but Mavi Conner held out hope the Tuesday afternoon storm would blow through.

Conner, 32, president of the Enlisted Spouses Club at Fort George G. Meade, was among the dozen people setting up for the Army base’s National Night Out event, part of an annual nationwide effort to promote good relationships between local law enforcement and their communities.

As the weather worsened, Conner and others grabbed hold of ropes attached to tents on McGlachlin Parade Field, hoping to keep them from flying away.

Then it happened: she saw what looked like fire or an explosion “five or 10 feet” from her face. It was a lightning strike.

“We all screamed and our children started crying,” said Conner, whose 13-year-old son was nearby. No one on the base was struck — a Fort Meade spokeswoman said the lightning hit nearby, but not on the field — but many were shaken.

“I was scared,” Conner said Wednesday, but “I would be lying if I told you I felt some wave went through my body and said my hair stood up.”

She attributed what she felt afterward — a headache and back pain — to fright.

Sherry Kuiper, a base spokeswoman, said one man was taken by ambulance to the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center for observation after the strike. The man was released from the hospital Tuesday night, Kuiper said.

Base officials had already decided to delay the start of the 5 p.m. event as weather worsened. After the lightning strike at about 4:30, the evening’s plans were canceled. Fort Meade police officers cleared the field, telling event volunteers to take shelter in their vehicles.

Mindy Rodriguez, 34, was among those who were examined by Fort Meade Emergency Medical Services after the nearby lightning strike. She said the sight and sound — like “fire being shot from the sky” and a “bomb going off” — frightened her so much she jumped backward.

Then her hand touched a metal tent poll. She felt static electricity. She started shaking. EMS checked her out.

She was OK.

“It was weird,” said Rodriguez, whose 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son saw the strike from the safety of her truck.

“I’ve never been that close to lightning before. That’s why I jumped back. It’s an overwhelming feeling.”

A few minutes of heavy rain — “we were all completely drenched,” Rodriguez said — and a moment of fright had upended months of planning. The club had planned to hand out 300 backpacks to Fort Meade children getting ready to head back to school. Instead, they’ll do so at a smaller barbecue event on the base next week.

“We were hoping that it was a passing storm, but lightning was spotted in the area and, unfortunately, after we see that we don’t get to delay things any more,” Kuiper said.

Rodriguez and Conner were able to laugh about Tuesday evening’s drama on Wednesday afternoon. And whatever they felt after the strike had faded away — for the most part.

“I feel a little hungover,” said Conner, who is seven months pregnant. “Of course, I haven’t drank in seven months.”

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