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Berkeley balcony collapse: City rallies round Irish students and families on a dark day in California

'My daughter just fell from the sky,' says dad as victims' identities confirmed

By Mark O'Regan and Adam Cullen

Published 17/06/2015

The Irish students killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse: Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke, all 21 years old and friends from south Dublin. The sixth fatality is Irish-American Ashley Donohoe (22), from California.
The Irish students killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse: Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke, all 21 years old and friends from south Dublin. The sixth fatality is Irish-American Ashley Donohoe (22), from California.

Berkeley has rallied around grief-stricken Irish students and victims families after what Mayor Tom Bates described as "a dark, dark day".

Following the deaths of six J1 students, with another seven injured in hospital, the families of the young victims began arriving in the city outside San Francisco last night - with more arriving early today.

The dead were named as Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke, all 21 years old and friends from south Dublin, police confirmed.

The sixth fatality is Irish-American Ashley Donohoe (22), from California, who was with the group to celebrate the 21st birthday of her cousin, Olivia Burke, who was on a summer work visa. Ashley's parents are understood to be originally from Ireland.

Tragically, the trauma has not ended as at least two of the injured are in a critical condition and some of those being treated have what are regarded as life-changing injuries.

The injured students are Hannah Waters, Clodagh Cogley, Niall Murray, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin, Conor Flynn and Aoife Beary, all aged between 20 and 22.

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The Irish Independent has learned that not all of the dead and injured were actually on the fourth-storey balcony in the Library Gardens complex when it collapsed at 12.40am.

Police are investigating the likelihood some of the students fell while trying to save those on the balcony as it gave way.

Four of the students died at the scene, one on the way to hospital and another passed away in hospital later in the day.

Berkeley police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats described the survivors' injuries as "very serious and potentially life-threatening".

The apartment, number 405, was rented out by Eimear, Olivia and Aoife but many of those attending the gathering would have lived close by.

The victims are primarily made up of two groups of friends from the Terenure, Rathfarnham and Foxrock areas. Some are past-pupils of the well-known St Mary's Schools in Rathmines and Loreto in Foxrock.

Philip Grant, the Irish consul in San Francisco, explained to the US media last night that Ireland was a small country where "very few of us have been left untouched by this tragedy".

He said the country was "frozen in shock and disbelief" and "overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that we have received from all the communities here".

"There are very many questions we would like to know the answers to, but right at the moment what we are concentrating on finding out how everybody is, to make sure that all those who needs to know how their loved ones are, are informed," Mr Grant said.

The father of a young student who survived the 40ft fall told the Irish Independent that his daughter "just fell from the sky".

Niall Cogley said it was a "miracle" his daughter, Clodagh, was alive following the balcony collapse.

She is being treated in hospital for "a number of broken bones".

"I was speaking to her earlier," he said. "She seemed upbeat enough given what has happened to her. But I don't know how much of that is down to the medication she is on, or her putting a brave face on things for her parents."

Mr Cogley said the 21-year-old psychology student had been away for only a few weeks having finished her exams in Trinity.

"From what I understand there was a 21st, and there was a bunch of them on a balcony, either getting some air, or dancing, or whatever you do at a 21st. Then it just fell from the sky and they all ended up on the street, some fatally injured.

"It was a very small community of over there in Berkeley - and they were obviously sticking together.

"That is such a tragedy - and there are so many bereaved families," said Mr Cogley, who is flying to the US today. "We don't know the full extent of her injuries at the moment, we are just thankful she is alive."

Anything from 30 to 50 people were at the house party in the apartment when the tragedy struck at 12.40am.

Police have confirmed a call was received about a noise disturbance at the apartment complex just 40 minutes before the tragedy - but decided not to respond as they also received reports of a shooting in a separate area of the city at the same time.

They said officers didn't consider one call a major issue and even if they had visited the complex they would not have entered the apartment but would merely have politely requested the group to lower the volume.


The tricolour is to be flown at half mast on Government Buildings today as a mark of respect to the victims.

Last night, wreaths were laid at the site on behalf of the Irish community in the area and the Government.

Many of the parents began the heartbreaking journey to the San Francisco as soon as they heard the news yesterday morning, with the remainder expected to travel on from Dublin this afternoon.

There are currently around 700 Irish students in the Bay area of San Francisco. Mr Grant said there were very few who wouldn't know someone at the tragic party.

One witness described the impact of the balcony collapse as being "like a bomb going off".

Dan Sullivan (21), a UCD student who has been in the US for just over two weeks, is living on the first floor of the apartment complex where the tragedy occurred.

"We just heard a bang in the middle of night and shouting," he said.

Mark Neville, another student from Ireland who lives in the building, said he was outside when he heard commotion.

"I saw rubble on the street, and a bunch of students crying," he said.

A number of the deceased students are understood to be have been attending UCD.

Tributes have flowed in for the students, with UCD President Andrew Deeks extending his condolences to the families.

Irish Independent

Irish Independent

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