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A year since Berkeley balcony tragedy

June 16, 2016

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The six students who died in the balcony collapse

 

By Ray O’Hanlon
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It is a year since the tragic Berkeley balcony collapse that resulted in the death of six students, five Irish and one Irish American.

Remembrance gatherings have included a tree planting ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin.

Five of the dead were Irish J-1 students who were in California to work for the summer.

They were Niccolai Schuster (21), Eoghan Culligan (21), Eimear Walsh (21), Olivia Burke, and Lorcan Miller (21).

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The J-1 students were from the South County Dublin area and were celebrating a 21st birthday when the tragedy occurred.

The Irish American victim was Ashley Donohoe from Santa Rosa in the Bay Area. She was a cousin of Olivia Burke.

Four died at the scene and two others were pronounced dead in hospital.

Some of the survivors suffered injuries that affect them still a year on.

The balcony, in an apartment in the Library Gardens complex, gave way as a result of rotted wood joists linking it to the front of the building.

In the remembrance ceremony in Dublin, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, paid tribute to the victims of what he described as an “unimaginable tragedy.”

O’Malley said that the people of the United States extended “heartfelt sympathies to the families, friends, and loved ones of the students who lost their lives or were injured.”

The ambassador presided over the planting of an apple tree and the unveiling of a memorial plaque outside the embassy in Ballsbridge, Dublin.

“As the tree grows strong, we will take comfort in the knowledge that the memory of Ashley, Eimear, Eoghan, Lorcan, Niccolai, and Olivia, will remain with us always,” said Ambassador O’Malley.

“We also hold in our thoughts and prayers the young people who are still recovering from their injuries that they may continue to heal with the love and support of family and friends here and in the United States.

“The remarkable resilience they have displayed sends a powerful reminder to the world of the friendship between our people and of our capacity to unite in times of adversity. I hope the outpouring of love and support from the American people in the aftermath of this tragedy has provided some comfort and brought us closer together,” he said.

“Friendship has always been at the heart of the J-1 Summer Work and Travel program. As we have seen over the last fifty years with more than one hundred and fifty thousand Irish participants, the program has created bonds of friendship between U.S. and Irish youth that last a lifetime, and we remain committed to its continued success.”

Civil suits brought by the families of the victims are currently before the California courts.

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