Remains to be flown home after Berkeley balcony collapse

Bodies of four of six students killed in incident arriving in Dublin on Sunday morning

Minister for Diaspora Affairs Jimmy Deenihan visits Berkeley, California where six Irish students died when a balcony collapsed. Video: Simon Carswell


The bodies of four of the six Irish students who died after a balcony collapsed in Berkeley, California earlier this week are due to be brought back to Ireland this weekend.

The bodies of Niccolai “Nick” Schuster (21), Lorcán Miller (21), Eimear Walsh (21) and Eoghan Culligan (21) are scheduled to be flown from San Francisco to Dublin this weekend, arriving in Ireland early on Sunday morning.

A joint funeral service will be held for Olivia Burke (21) and her Irish-American cousin Ashley Donohoe (22) on Saturday morning near Ms Donohoe’s home in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco.

Some 300 members of the Irish J1 community in California are due to hold an all-night vigil on Friday night.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin will celebrate a special Mass at the Pro Cathedral in Dublin at 6pm on Saturday.

Special service

In Dublin, hundreds of people attended a special memorial service in UCD on Friday afternoon in memory of the six students.

UCD students and staff, friends and family members of those who died after the balcony collapsed in Berkeley came together in the college chapel to remember the students who had been spending a summer working in northern California on J1 visas.

Nick Schuster was a second year history and politics student, while Lorcán Miller and Eimear Walsh were both third-year medical students at UCD.

Olivia Burke was due to begin her fourth year studying at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology in September.

Eoghan Culligan had just completed his third year studying supply chain management and logistics at Dublin Institute of Technology.

Ashley Donohoe was preparing to enter her fifth year studying biology at Sonoma State University in California. Her parents had emigrated to the US from Dublin in 1989.

Speaking at Friday’s memorial, Fr Leon Ó Giolláin noted “the sense of community, of communion indeed, is profound” in the manner in which people had come together - across Ireland, across America and across the ocean that parted them.

“All this tells us is that it really is love that makes the world go around,” he said.

The memorial was also attended by President Michael D Higgins, his wife Sabina and UCD president Andrew Deeks, who ended his address with a quote from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.

“They lived and laughed and loved and left, we will not forget them.”

‘The children of Ireland’

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said on Friday he would like to meet the families of the six students killed in Berkeley when the time was appropriate, adding that their deaths had touched every corner of the country.

Mr Kenny said an ecumenical service would be held somewhere close to the Dáil once the bodies of all the victims were repatriated.

The British Irish Council also expressed its sympathies to the people of Ireland for the tragic loss in California.

Speaking from Berkeley, Minister of State for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan said the six students who died on Tuesday had “become the children of Ireland”.

“I have never seen such a outpouring of genuine sympathy and grief from the whole country for the families of the bereaved,” Mr Deenihan said.

He later told RTÉ that the support, not only from the Irish community in Berkeley and San Francisco, but also from police, fire officers and medical teams, had been “overwhelming”.

Mr Deenihan said some of the injured were not in a position to receive visitors but were getting “every support possible”.

He said the mayor of Berkeley was very concerned by the balcony collapse and would ensure an investigation into the incident was carried out as soon as possible.

Irish Ambassador to the US Anne Anderson told RTÉ she had witnessed an “outpouring of grief and sympathy and solidarity” with people saying “we will do anything, anything, anything”.

Ms Anderson said she was struck by the “Irishness” of the grief, “the sense that we are family”.

Books of condolence

Books of condolence around Ireland have opened for people to pay their respects to the six students who died.

A book at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin will be open until 6pm over the weekend, while books of condolence at City Hall in Cork will be open during business hours until the end of the month.

A book is available until 4pm every day next week at Galway City Council’s office, while Belfast City Council also announced on Friday it would open a book of condolence in City Hall on Monday.

Hundreds of people had signed books of condolence at the Mansion House in Dublin by Friday evening.

A candlelit vigil in memory of the students will take place at Eyre Square in Galway city at 9pm next Wednesday evening.

A remembrance service will also be held at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York next Thursday.

‘Structurally unsound’

In Berkeley, building inspectors have removed the third floor balcony underneath the one that collapsed on Tuesday, describing it as “structurally unsound”.

Berkeley mayor Tom Bates said it was probable the balcony collapse was primarily caused by water damage to its wooden beams.

Mr Bates said he was still awaiting the official report on what caused the balcony to collapse but it seemed there were problems that caused water to seep into the wood, leading to problems that eventually weakened the support beams.

He said he has not ruled out making a criminal complaint to the county prosecutor if investigators find shoddy workmanship caused the balcony collapse.

According to court records, Segue Construction, which built the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley, paid $3 million (€2.6 million) to settle a legal action alleging water damage to balconies and windows at another complex.

The Berkeley planning inspector, Berkeley police and the Alameda County Coroner are carrying out separate investigations into Tuesday’s incident, with attention focusing on the hypothesis that dry rot undermined the balcony.