Families of tragic Berkeley students make joint statement at People of the Year Awards: 'Our sons and daughters live eternally in our hearts'
The families of the six students who lost their lives in a balcony collapse in Berkeley gave an emotional joint statement at the People of the Year Awards.
The 2015 International Award was given to Father Brendan McBride from the the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center (IIPC) in the area and Consul General Philip Grant. They were given their statues by two of the survivors' fathers, Mike Beary, father of Aoife and Niall Cogley, father of Clodagh.
Mary McAleese spoke on stage on behalf of the families of Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Ashley Donohoe, Lorcan Miller, Niccolai Schuster and Eimear Walsh.
"Since the 16th of June this year, our lives have changed forever," she read. "And we now mourn the sudden and tragic passing of Ashley, Eimear, Owen, Lorcan, Niccolai and Olivia. Our beloved sons and daughters live on eternally in our hearts.
"The People of the Year Awards provide a unique opportunity to honour those who have made a real difference to people’s lives. Father Brendan and Philip have been instrumental in supporting all of our families as we coped with the early days of our losses in Berkeley."
The families went on to praise both Fr McBride and Mr Grant for their support for the victims and their loved ones, but also reaching out all J1 students in the area affected by the collapse.
"During these toughest days, they offered compassion, empathy and protection at a time when we needed it most," the statement said. "The speed at which they quickly reached out to all J1 students in Berkeley was faultless.
"The support and kindness they provided to the friends of our children as they came to terms with this tragedy is limitless. This support has been sustained and continues through to the present day, for which we will always be grateful. On behalf of all our families, we believe that both Fr Brendan and Philip’s extraordinary actions are truly deserving of this award."
Fr McBride, based in San Francisco, was instrumental in supporting the Irish community in Southern California at a time they needed it most, including visiting three hospitals where the survivors were treated to meeting with their family and friends.
"Fr Brendan was on the scene of the accident within hours of the balcony collapsing – he comforted the dazed and frightened students as the news of the deaths of their friends filtered through. His work continued around the clock as he helped each of us when we arrived from Ireland and was always at hand to offer support over the subsequent days."
Mr Grant was also honoured with the award and the families thanked him for his "sensitivity and ability to overcome any barriers" in the aftermath of the collapse.
"Philip has been intimately involved with each family – liaising closely and working tirelessly with us from our arrival into the United States, reuniting us with our children and planning our return home from Berkeley," Ms McAleese read on behalf of the families.
"His care and inclusion of the J1 students gave us all additional support in the absence of our families back home in Ireland. His sensitivity and ability to overcome any barriers was inspirational and made our difficult task more bearable.
"We would like to congratulate Fr Brendan and Philip on receipt of their award this evening. They are worthy recipients and we cannot thank them enough for their help, assistance and support through these tragic times."