The tragic news from Berkeley, California of the deaths and injuries of Irish students is every parent's worst nightmare.

One can only imagine the sudden pain and grief across so many families in Ireland when this news hit home.

Just a few weeks back those students who lost their lives or who were injured would have struck out for America to live their version of the dream summer.

Now it has ended in unspeakable tragedy with deaths and catastrophic injuries.

Our hearts go out to the affected families. They should know that all Irish Americans grieve with them and are thinking of them at this terrible time.

We are especially aware that the tragedy happened so far away from home for the families, making the circumstances that much more difficult.

The Irish government has moved quickly to help the families, and the local Irish community in San Francisco has a great reputation in that regard too.

Most Irish Americans are aware of the J-1 program which brought the Irish students to America.

Generations of Irish kids have headed across the Atlantic to spend summers working here, a rite of passage that has become a wonderful introduction to America.

Almost all have had wonderful experiences, including some life-changing ones such as this editorial writer who decided to make a home here after first coming as a J-1 student.

Occasionally there are problems, especially in recent years as students got into brawls, trashed rental apartments and experienced other kinds of trouble, but that was always a very small minority.

The kids enjoying themselves on Tuesday morning at the apartment in Berkeley were doing nothing wrong, merely tasting the freedom and fun of America and enjoying a 21st birthday celebration.

“The death of a child or young person is the worst news that a parent can receive. At this profoundly painful time I pray for those who have died, and ask also for prayerful support for their grieving families, fellow students and loved ones,” a statement released by Archbishop Eamon Martin said.

A full inquiry into the balcony collapse will shed light on exactly what happened, but in the meantime we can only grieve and hope the families are able to somehow cope with such a massive and shocking tragedy.

And to the Irish students currently in all parts of the U.S. this summer on J-1 visas, please take every precaution possible to stay safe and well.