After balcony collapse, tributes,
prayers, law changes, fundraising
A moment of joy for Niccolai Schuster as he met his hero, Bastian Schweinsteiger. The newly signed Manchester United midfielder has paid his own tribute to the young Dubliner by posing for a new photo while holding this one.
By Ray O’Hanlon
Sadly, it is often the case that something has to go terribly wrong before it is made right.
Such has been the case with the Berkeley balcony collapse, a tragedy that was certainly preventable, but one which may well end up ensuring that no such tragedy occurs again, at least in Berkeley itself.
Just over a month since the death of six students and the serious injury of seven others, family and friends gathered in the California city beside San Francisco Bay to remember the dead, pray for the recovery of the injured, and express hope that the loss of lives and dreams were not entirely in vain.
The tributes even extended to the current U.S. tour by Manchester United, who paid their own tribute earlier this week before their game against the San Jose Earthquakes.
About fifty miles separated the playing field from Berkeley.
The gap was filled with silent thoughts and prayer as players and fans remembered the dead: Niccolai Schuster, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcan Murray, Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke and Ashley Donohoe.
The Manchester United connection had been forged by Niccolai Schuster, who, despite his German roots, had grown up in Dublin.
Niccolai was a soccer fan who followed the fortunes of the German club Bayern Munich, and in particular a player with one of the most recognizable names in world soccer, Bastian Schweinsteiger, signed by United in recent days from Bayern.
It was a photo of Niccolai Schuster with Schweinsteiger that circled the globe after the Berkeley tragedy, thus reinforcing the shared sense of a loss of life, decades before its natural ending.
As for the injured? Three of the most seriously hurt are still being treated in California.
According to reports, Aoife Beary from Blackrock in County Dublin, whose birthday the students were celebrating when the balcony collapsed, continues to have difficulty recognizing her family.
She is being treated at the Santa Clara Medical Center.
Her friends, Clodagh Cogley and Hannah Waters, are also being cared for at the center.
Clodagh Cogley (21) has already proclaimed her determination to move on with her life, even if she has to spend the rest of it in a wheelchair.
As the injured battle on, sports events and concerts in Ireland have been raising funds to meet the enormous costs of treatment and rehabilitation.
And the aftermath of the balcony collapse has focused attention not just on the particular apartment building where the disaster occurred, but all residential buildings in Berkeley and beyond.
Legislators have moved to make changes, and in Berkeley have already succeeded.
An effort to bring about change in the state of California failed at the first go but is expected to be revived.
In Berkeley, the City Council voted last week to ensure that all balconies, decks and stairways, will undergo a check in the next six months and after that every three years.
The balcony that collapsed, if it had been inspected, would have revealed rotted wooden joists linking it to the building wall. This was a disaster just waiting to happen.
Berkeley’s mayor, Tom Bates, told the Guardian newspaper that he believes the new measures will prevent a repetition of the tragedy.
“Although nothing we do can erase the horrible tragedy that occurred, I believe that the strict new regulations for balcony construction and inspections adopted by the city council last week are an important step toward our goal of doing everything we can to make sure this never happens again,” Bates told the daily.
“I have been deeply moved by the tremendous outpouring of compassion and support, both locally and abroad, for the injured, and for all the families and friends impacted by this terrible ordeal,” he said.
Meanwhile, the collapse and its awful consequences are under criminal and civil investigation by Alameda County District Attorney, Nancy O’Malley, and the California Contractors State License Board.
Only a little over a month has passed since the June 16 loss of life, and the profound change in life’s course for those who survived.
Family and friends held a month’s mind last week in Berkeley.
But their collective remembrance has only started on a journey that will last lifetimes.