With the anniversary of last year's Berkeley balcony tragedy approaching, the US pastor who comforted the victims’ families last summer has called on Irish parents to allow their children to visit the US on J-1 visas.
"Parents will always worry, but you have to allow them to go,” said Fr. Brendan McBride, who works with the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center in San Francisco and who arrived on the scene within hours of the Berkeley tragedy to comfort the injured and the victims’ friends and family.
"Most people will tell you, they dip their toes in the States through the J-1 program,” he continued.
"This was a horrific tragedy, but I don't think parents would want their kids not to have the opportunity to see what the States is all about. Some come back and make careers."
On June 16, 2015, six young Irish and Irish-American students tragically lost their lives when the balcony they were standing on collapsed, causing them to fall to the ground from the fourth floor.
The six victims - Olivia Burke, 21; Eoghan Culligan, 21; Lorcan Miller, 21; Niccolai Schuster, 21; Eimear Walsh, 21; and Irish-American Ashley Donohue, aged 22 - were celebrating a 21st birthday when the balcony they were standing on collapsed due to dry rot. Victims Ashley Donohue and Olivia Burke were cousins.
A further seven Irish students were injured in the balcony collapse: Hannah Waters, Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Niall Murray, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin and Conor Flynn, all aged between 20 and 22. Fr McBride met with them and their families again when he returned to Ireland last Christmas.
"I was home at Christmas and we met the parents. It was a lovely event and it was nice to meet them again,” he told the Irish Mirror.
"The kids were there at different stages of their recuperation. Some of them were, hopefully, getting back to normal life.
“They will always be connected to us."
Recalling the bedside vigils and pain of the families in the aftermath of the accident, Fr. McBride revealed that he still gets upset when he thinks back on the hurt felt by those left behind. Regardless, he urged parents not to allow their children to miss out on the J-1 experience because of a once-off incident.
“I do get emotional sometimes thinking about it, because it draws you back to the pain of the parents," McBride said.
"It is a really tough time for families because while they are living it all year, it all comes back again.
"We will have an anniversary Mass and event, it helps the community to gather. They need to be with their own around that time."
Although early reports of the collapse claimed too many people were on the balcony at the time, it was later discovered that the wooden-frame suffered from dry rot because it had not been properly protected from water damage during the construction of the relatively new apartment complex.
In March, the California District Attorney ruled there would be no criminal charges of manslaughter brought against any one individual or company involved, citing a lack of evidence.
Although the balcony collapsed due to water trapped on the deck during construction, which in turn led to extensive rot, the materials used were all in line with building code regulations and, as such, the Alameda County District Attorney, Nancy O’Malley, felt a “disregard for human life" could not be proven nor could it be shown that "the deadly consequences of those actions were reasonably foreseeable.”
H/T: Irish Mirror