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US balcony victims 'had twins bond'

Published 20/06/2015

Mourners arrive at a vigil for four Irish students who died when a Berkeley apartment balcony collapsed (AP)
Mourners arrive at a vigil for four Irish students who died when a Berkeley apartment balcony collapsed (AP)

Two cousins who were among the victims killed when a balcony collapsed in Berkeley, California, have been remembered as kind, fun-loving young women who shared a bond of twins even though they grew up an ocean apart - one in California and the other in Ireland.

Ashley Donohoe, of Rhonert Park, California, and her cousin Olivia Burke were mourned at a Mass.

A bagpipe player led a brief procession of family and friends carrying the coffins into St Joseph Catholic Church in Cotati.

Wreaths of white flowers and emerald green ribbons decorated the church.

When Ms Burke turned 18, Ms Donohoe travelled to Ireland and surprised her. Ms Burke often travelled to California to spend time with her cousin, said the Rev Daniel Whelton, who led the Mass at the same church where Ms Donohoe was baptised.

"Growing up, they would dress alike and they would try to fool their parents into thinking they were twins," Fr Whelton said with those in attendance breaking into laughter.

Fr Whelton said Ms Donohoe's mother told him the two were embracing when they died: " In life they were together and in death they are together."

At a less sombre celebration of the women's lives at Sonoma State University, where Ms Donohoe was studying biology, two giant screens projected photographs of the cousins hugging, dressing up and making funny faces.

Ms Donohoe's sister, Amanda Donohoe, said her sister travelled at least 22 times to Ireland to spend time with her cousin.

"Although their lives were really short and ended in a tragic way, they still led full lives with the short time they did have," Amanda Donohoe said.

The two cousins were among the six people killed on Tuesday when the balcony snapped off the fifth floor of a Berkeley apartment building during a birthday party, tossing 13 people to the street 50 feet below. Seven people are being treated in hospitals.

The other four dead victims were mourned at a Friday night vigil in Oakland attended by family members and dozens of their fellow Irish students, including some who saw them in their final moments.

Hearses carried the four metal coffins into St Columba Catholic Church, where about 15 of the victims' immediate family members huddled together in the rectory for about an hour before entering the church for the private viewing.

Those being honoured were Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh, all 21.

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