Sunday 11 December 2016

'I just can’t put it into words'- J1 students in Berkeley in deep shock

Shona Murray in Berkeley

Published 18/06/2015 | 10:22

Two men participate in a special Mass for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Oakland, California June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Two men participate in a special Mass for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Oakland, California June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Father Aidan McAleenan, an Irishman who has a Parish in Oakland, speaks during a special Mass for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Oakland, California June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
The sun sets outside the Cathedral of Christ the Light, prior to a special Mass for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse, in Oakland, California June 17, 2015. Three men and three women in their early 20s, including an American friend of the Irish students, died in the collapse, and seven others were hospitalized. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Claire Raftery, a former Dubliner now living in San Francisco, plays the bagpipes prior to a special Mass for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Oakland, California June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
A man looks up while others pray during a special Mass for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Oakland, California June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Claire Raftery, a former Dubliner now living in San Francisco, stands during a special Mass for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Oakland, California June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Neil Sands, President of the Irish Network Bay Area, attends a special Mass for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Oakland, California June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Claire Raftery, a former Dubliner now living in San Francisco, plays bagpipes before a special Mass for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Oakland, California June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Mourners lay candles during a vigil for six Irish students Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach)
Mourners hold candles during a vigil for six Irish students Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach)
A mourner cries after placing a candle at a vigil for six Irish students Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Berkeley, Calif. The six Irish students died when a balcony collapsed during a party. (AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach)
Mourners stand by during a candlelight vigil for six Irish students Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach)
Candles illuminate a picture of Niccolai Schuster during a candlelight vigil for six Irish students Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach)
A flag of Ireland, flowers and a sign are shown at a shrine left for victims of the Library Gardens apartment building balcony collapse Wednesday, June 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A man who did not give his name looks at photographs, cards and flowers from a shrine for victims from the Library Gardens apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, Calif., Wednesday, June 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Flowers and cards are left for victims from the Library Gardens apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, Calif., Wednesday, June 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The last remains of the balcony at 2020 Kittredge Street were unceremoniously removed by city workers early yesterday afternoon as student and locals watched on.

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Amid the gorgeous sunshine in the usually fun, student city of Berkeley, police and investigators from the Building and Safety Department continued their investigation into the likely cause of the balcony crash that has been the ruination of so many lives.

Men place candles at a memorial during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 17, 2015. Three men and three women in their early 20s, including an American friend of the Irish students, died in the collapse, and seven others were hospitalized. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Men place candles at a memorial during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 17, 2015. Three men and three women in their early 20s, including an American friend of the Irish students, died in the collapse, and seven others were hospitalized. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

Meanwhile the Aer Lingus flight bringing the final families of loved ones was about to touch down in San Francisco airport, with members of the Irish Consulate awaiting them; arranging the necessary logistics so they could reach their children.

At the corner of the little cafe inside the apartment building on Kittredge Street is the growing memorial site to the 6 deceased students and their 7 friends who are critically ill and injured. A canvas of flowers, cards, photos, and poems expressing condolences also act as a place for which people can visit and pay their respects.

People place candles in front of a memorial during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 17, 2015. Three men and three women in their early 20s, including an American friend of the Irish students, died in the collapse, and seven others were hospitalized. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
People place candles in front of a memorial during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 17, 2015. Three men and three women in their early 20s, including an American friend of the Irish students, died in the collapse, and seven others were hospitalized. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

“I’m not Irish or a student," said Paul Anderson, "I heard about it on the news and I just sort of felt like to should come by.

“It’s a real tragedy – these were young kids, having fun; coming to America. It’s just sad”.

People hold candles during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Berkeley, California, June 17, 2015. Three men and three women in their early 20s, including an American friend of the Irish students, died in the collapse, and seven others were hospitalized. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
People hold candles during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Berkeley, California, June 17, 2015. Three men and three women in their early 20s, including an American friend of the Irish students, died in the collapse, and seven others were hospitalized. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

A steady trickle of Irish students all within the 20 -22 age range - the same as the 40-odd students that were in the apartment on Kittredge Street on Monday night have been arriving to the site throughout the last days as well as late into the night; all of them in deep shock at what has befallen their fellow J1-ers.

Two families that arrived early on Wednesday morning were that of Aoife Beary and Hannah Waters who remain critically ill in Oakland Hospital; no news of either of their situations was imminent.

Women hold candles during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 17, 2015. Three men and three women in their early 20s, including an American friend of the Irish students, died in the collapse, and seven others were hospitalized. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Women hold candles during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 17, 2015. Three men and three women in their early 20s, including an American friend of the Irish students, died in the collapse, and seven others were hospitalized. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

The autopsies of the deceased were completed early in the morning and their remains now lie in Alameda County Mortuary, where their families can make arrangements for their repatriation, as they so wish.

“I just can’t put it into words” said one student as she gazed over the layers of flowers and heart-shaped candles.

A vigil at 9pm organised by the wider J1 network in Berkeley was also due to take place. It’s not only an expression of solidarity to the victims, but also as an important support network for the 300 students that chose to spend their summer in Berkeley this year.

Terry, who lived in the same building and was wide awake last Monday night/Tuesday morning, says she regrets not calling the authorities, not because she was bothered by the revelry, but because maybe then the crowd would have dispersed before the balcony collapsed.

“Perhaps, if security had been called some of them would have left – they might have gone elsewhere; or at least a few less would have been killed”

“They deserved to be protected - these kids”.

“I’m not too worried about my safety because my apartment doesn’t have a balcony, but my god there is major questions to be asked”.

“It was a loud party – but it’s the summer time; I thought, they’re having a good time, and they’re Irish and they’re always nice, so I didn’t complain.

“Then I heard what sounded like 2 cars ploughing in to each other and I thought, oh my God things have got out control.

“I saw a body on the ground when I looked to the left”

“The police and ambulances came – they were all horrified when they arrived – I could tell.

“I soon realised that what they were seeing was not just one body, but several bodies”

“I saw one girl and I knew that she was gone”.

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