Monday 5 December 2016

'A magical son who was like a space rocket going through his life'

Published 25/06/2015 | 02:30

John and Alexei Schuster, father and brother of Niccolai, help carry the coffin at his funeral at the Church of the Three Patrons in Rathgar, Dublin, yesterday
John and Alexei Schuster, father and brother of Niccolai, help carry the coffin at his funeral at the Church of the Three Patrons in Rathgar, Dublin, yesterday
A mourner wearing a Bayern Munich jersey outside the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar for the funeral mass of Niccolai Schuster

He was his elder brother, his only sibling, his best friend - and they were inseparable. Everyone had talked of Niccolai Schuster (21), the much-loved 'King of Tomfoolery' who relished practical jokes almost as much as he loved football.

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He was a fearless force of nature, a "space rocket going through life", as his father John vividly described.

Alexei, his younger brother, used to burst with pride at any comparison made between them.

He was sitting at the kitchen table when the news was gently broken to him that the brother he had idolised had died in the balcony collapse in Berkeley. In an agony of grief, the teenage boy ran out into the garden and, raising his fists to heaven, screamed with all his might: "I love you Nicc."

This image painted by John Schuster at the funeral, encapsulated all too clearly the true, raw pain of the Berkeley disaster - and the way the lives of the families have been ripped asunder in the same brutal manner in which the balcony itself came crashing away from its vital supports.

Mourners gathered at the Church of the Three Patrons in Rathgar cried helpless tears at the shocking waste of it all.

Total silence fell as the coffin arrived, shouldered by Alexei, John and Nicc's friends who wore the red jersey of his favourite Bayern Munich with 'Schuster' on the back (inset right).

Boys from Alexei's class at St Mary's College, Rathmines formed a poignant guard of honour in the same blue school jersey that Nicc himself had once worn with pride.

Mourners were led by John and Graziella, Nicc's parents, and Alexei, as well as Nicc's grandparents and extended family. Among those attending were representatives for the President and the Taoiseach; Health Minister Leo Varadkar; veteran broadcaster Micheal Ó Muircheartaigh and BBC foreign correspondent Fergal Keane - a cousin of John Schuster's and a former St Mary's pupil.

Also in attendance were the family of Eoghan Culligan, whose funeral the Schusters had attended the previous day.

Many in attendance were J1 students home from the States, and also from Canada and Europe.

Chief Celebrant Fr Richard Olins of St Mary's remembered the injured students watching the funeral Mass on webcam from their hospital beds in California and in a special message, told them that they, too, were part of the companionship and were "enfolded in the warm embrace of love".

One of the seriously injured was Jack Halpin - Nicc's best friend.

Gifts brought to the altar included a photo of the UCD Arts student in Bangkok; a jersey from the Beechwood football team he coached; a jersey of Bushy Park Rangers - the transition year soccer team he set up with his father for Alexei; a bottle of his favourite orange squash and a Terry's Chocolate Orange.

At the end, the Schuster family rose to give eulogies striking in their strength and devastating in their grief. Nicc was "magical...Oh my God, he was so special," said John, recalling his willowy figure, his sense of the ridiculous and his love of sport.

"I was privileged to have Nicc as my son," he said, urging investigators to "leave no stone unturned...this can never happen again."

He urged other parents not to let the balcony tragedy deter them from allowing their children to have freedom.

"Nicc was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he simply stated.

Graziella said they had tried to give their sons both roots and wings - which was far harder. Her voice shook as she told Nicc he would never be forgotten.

Eyes filled with tears as Alexei said: "Words cannot describe the pain I'm feeling. I'm split in two."

And then, for the second day in a row, St Mary's sent off one of their brothers with a round of applause, as the coffin left for cremation at Mount Jerome.

Irish Independent

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