The Irish nation's grief at the loss of five Irish students and one Irish American is being publically displayed today as government building flags fly at half-mast in the wake of the tragic balcony collapse in Berkeley, California.
It is being reported that the Irish government is considering sending a jet especially to repatriate the bodies of the five Irish who have died as their families travel to the US. Officials are working tirelessly to ensure the country paid a fitting tribute, given the shocking scale of the loss of life.
A book of condolence for those killed in Berkeley will be opened at the Mansion House in Dublin on Thursday. Also another will be open at University College Dublin, where many of the victims studied and at County Hall in Dun Laoghaire this morning.
This morning our flag flies at half-mast in remembrance of those who lost their lives in yesterday's Berkeley tragedy pic.twitter.com/1g93pggmZN— U.S. Embassy Dublin (@USEmbassyDublin) June 17, 2015
The family members of the five Irish students and one Irish-American victims are arriving in the city.
Kevin Byrne, Ireland’s vice consul in San Francisco, said he and his fellow diplomats had been on the telephone all day, counseling relatives and friends of the victims.
“This is a very difficult time for all of us, as you can imagine,” Byrne said.
The dead have been named as Ashley Donohoe (22), from Rohnert Park, California; Olivia Burke (21); Eimear Walsh (21); Eoghan Culligan (21); Niccolai Schuster (21); and Lorcan Miller (21); all from Ireland. Donohoe had dual Irish-US nationality and was a cousin of Burke.
The accident occurred at the residence on the fourth floor of 2020 Library Garden Complex, Kittredge Street. The group of young people were celebrating a 21st birthday when the balcony collapsed just before 1am, on Tuesday (June 16).
On Tuesday evening the Mayor of Berkeley and the Consul General of Ireland to San Francisco laid two wreaths at the scene of the accident, one on behalf of the Irish Government, the other on behalf of the local Irish-American community.
A shrine to those who died is growing on the street below. It includes flowers, a pack of cigarettes, a Cal Berkeley banner, a Dublin city flag and condolence notes.
Seven other Irish students who were also on the balcony are being treated in local hospitals. Two are being described as in a critical condition, including the girl whose birthday was being celebrated. The other five are being described as in a stable condition however some have life-changing injuries. They are being treated at Highland Hospital, in Oakland, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, and John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek.
Police had been called to the party 40 minutes before the balcony collapsed due to noise complaints from neighbors. The police had not yet responded to the call out as they were called to a shooting incident elsewhere.
The balcony, which is believed to have landed on the balcony below before falling about 40 feet to the ground, was removed yesterday. A team of structural engineers inspected the balcony beneath it and have made the decision to remove it as well. They based this decision on the wooden supports being used to support it. Questions about the use of these wooden beams have been raised and the investigation is ongoing.
The construction of the 176-apartment building was completed in January 2007.
Speaking to the RTE radio show “Morning Ireland,” Mayor of Berkeley Tom Bates said, "Some preliminary issues that have been raised – that possibly some water might have gotten lodged in with the wood and the wood would have deteriorated over time, but we don't know that.
"That's speculation on our part," he said.
VIDEO: Berkeley balcony collapse investigated http://t.co/LPkduRRt1e— The Associated Press (@AP) June 17, 2015
The building on Kittredge Street is popular with Irish J-1 visa students spending their summer in the area. This summer there were approximately 50 Irish nationals are living in the building many of them working at restaurants on San Francisco’s Pier 39.
Local restaurant owner Bob Partrite told the San Francisco Chronicle, “They’re super clean-cut, they’re extremely hard-working and they’re very kind. I’ve been here 20 years, and every summer we get inundated” with Irish students.
Two of the victims, Burke and Walsh, worked as hostesses at the Hana Zen sushi bar and Japanese restaurant overlooking the bay, according to Pier 39 spokeswoman Sue Muzzin.
The restaurant's owner, Alvin Louie, said they were “hard workers and very sweet.” The restaurant held a candlelight vigil in their memory. Louie said Walsh was on the verge of promotion from hostess to waitress.
His wife, Angie Louie, said, “They were quick and smart. They were always smiling, enthusiastic and full of energy.”
Another victim, Miller, was studying medicine, at University College Dublin. He had intended to go to a party Tuesday night to watch the Warriors in the NBA Finals on TV. A former classmate of Miller’s, Ze Chen Lee, told the Chronicle he had just spoken with Miller on Sunday.
Lee said, “He was a smart and helpful guy who helped me a lot in my dissection class, sharing his knowledge.”
Niall Murphy (21), one of the injured students, was working as a bartender. Louie said there were reports that he has broken his leg and wrist.
Donohoe, a dual Irish-US citizen, was fondly remembered by her high school vice principal in Rohnert Park.
“Ashley was loved by her peers. She was definitely a leader,” said Josh Wilson, vice principal of Rancho Cotate High School. Donohoe graduated in 2011.
Having headed off to Sonoma State University, Donohoe came back to Rancho Cotate to help out as an assistant soccer coach.
“Some of my fondest memories are of her coming back and saying, ‘I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and give back,’” Wilson said.
Donohue’s best friend, Andrew Martini, said she “could relate with everyone. Always approachable. Always something funny to tell you.”
The pair grew up together and dated for three years in high school. She was homecoming queen, he was homecoming king. Although their relationship did not last their friendship did. They went on to study biology at Sonoma State and were preparing to enter their fifth year together in the fall.
Martini said, “She was looking into becoming a forensic pathologist because it was so different from what everyone else was doing,” Martini said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs helpline can be contacted on +353-1-4180200.
Mayor of Berkeley Tom Bates said the city's Health Department would be offering assistance to people affected. Counseling would be available and other supports, such as finding people places to stay.