First Lady Melania Trump played host Monday evening to a private White House reception for Gold Star families—an event that was closed to reporters and news cameras, and one that comes after her 25-day absence from the public eye.
“It was a privilege to welcome Gold Star Families to the White House today to recognize our nation’s fallen heroes and their families,” the first lady said in a written statement that was emailed to the White House press corps two hours and 37 minutes after the reception was scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. “Thank you to those who joined us this evening and to the men and women currently serving overseas and to their families, thank you for your service.”
Two of the three photos Mrs. Trump tweeted from the event show her seated beside her husband, President Donald Trump, in the East Room as memorial candles were lit and remarks were delivered by an unidentified man. A spokeswoman for Mrs. Trump did not respond to queries about the nature of her participation in the gathering on the state floor of the executive mansion.
“Welcome back, Mrs. Trump,” said one commenter on the first lady’s Monday night tweet. “SHE’S ALIVE!!!” commented Twitter user @MatthewLumby. And Tony Posnanski of New York, the first to reply to Mrs. Trump’s tweet asked fellow Twitter users to “Like this tweet if you zoomed in the pics to see if she was really there.” Capturing the mystery surrounding the first lady’s long absence from the public eye, yet another on Twitter asked: “Is it really #MelaniaTrump or her body double?”
The event for the families of military personnel killed in the line of duty comes amid growing speculation over the first lady’s whereabouts as she had not been seen in public since May 10, days before she underwent a “successful” procedure to treat what was described by her staff as an unspecified benign kidney condition.
In that May 10 appearance, Mrs. Trump joined her husband at Joint Base Andrews to welcome home three Americans who had been held captive in North Korea.
Four days later, the first lady’s office made the surprise announcement that she had undergone a “successful” kidney procedure that day, but would remain hospitalized for the remainder of the week. The first lady reportedly returned home to the White House on Saturday, May 19, but has remained out of the spotlight since before her procedure.
Last Wednesday, as her husband and stepdaughter Ivanka hosted a “Sports and Fitness Day” event at the White House, the first lady did not make an appearance but sent out a tweet in an apparent effort to quash conspiracy theories about her ongoing absence.
“I see the media is working overtime speculating where I am & what I’m doing. Rest assured, I’m here at the @WhiteHouse w my family, feeling great, & working hard on behalf of children & the American people!” she tweeted, presumably from the First Family’s second-floor private quarters while her husband, hundreds of visitors and dozens of White House reporters were assembled on the South Lawn just feet below.
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Days later, she skipped out on a weekend getaway with her husband and his family to Camp David.
Her spokesperson, Stephanie Grisham, told PEOPLE last week that Mrs. Trump had been busy participating in “several internal meetings with staff all last week, and that continues this week.”
Grisham added, “We’ve been going over initiatives and other long term planning for events such as the Congressional Picnic and 4th of July.”
Grisham also told NBC News that the first lady won’t attend the G7 summit in Canada this week with the president, nor go on a June 12 trip to Singapore for a North Korea meeting.