Tuesday 27 September 2016

'It didn't look real' - police recall horror of Berkeley scene

Ciara Treacy

Published 16/01/2016 | 02:30

Police at the scene of the balcony collapse at the apartment building in Berkeley. Photo: Getty
Police at the scene of the balcony collapse at the apartment building in Berkeley. Photo: Getty

The first responders who arrived to the scene of the Berkeley balcony collapse last summer have described how the carnage was so extreme it "didn't look real".

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Police officers who assisted at the scene, where six students were killed and seven injured on June 16 last year, spoke about the tragedy for the first time to local television station KTVU.

One of the victims was Irish-American while the others were Irish students who had travelled to California on a J1 visa.

Arriving at the Library Gardens apartments was overwhelming, according to Jitendra Singh, who was almost at the end of his shift when the call came.

A man makes the sign of the cross over his heart after laying a bouquet of flowers near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Six people were killed, including five young Irish citizens, and at least seven other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
A man makes the sign of the cross over his heart after laying a bouquet of flowers near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Six people were killed, including five young Irish citizens, and at least seven other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Workmen examine the damage at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Six people were killed, including five young Irish citizens, and at least seven other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
The remains of a damaged balcony are removed from a 4th-story apartment building balcony in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Six people were killed, including five young Irish citizens, and at least seven other people were injured when the balcony collapsed early Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Workmen examine the damage at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Six people were killed, including five young Irish citizens, and at least seven other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Workmen examine the damage at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Six people were killed, including five young Irish citizens, and at least seven other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Flowers are laid at a memorial near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Six people were killed, including five young Irish citizens, and at least seven other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Philip Grant, the Consul General of Ireland for the Western United States speaks at a news conference following a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Six people were killed, including five young Irish citizens, and at least seven other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Workers with BELFOR Restoration Company look at a fourth floor balcony railing as it rests on the balcony below at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley, Calif. on Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Berkeley police say several people are dead and others injured after a balcony fell shortly before 1 a.m., near the University of California, Berkeley. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Workers examine a balcony that collapsed in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Berkeley police say several people are dead and others injured after the balcony fell near the University of California, Berkeley. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Workers examine a balcony that collapsed in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Police and fire and building officials were working to figure out why the roughly 5-by-10-foot concrete-floor balcony broke loose from the side of the stucco apartment building, situated a couple of blocks from the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
The balcony that collapsed at an apartment building on Kittredge Street in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Six people were killed and seven others were taken to area hospitals. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group via AP)
A man who did not give his name leaves an item at a makeshift memorial for victims of a balcony that collapsed in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Berkeley police say several people are dead and others injured after a balcony fell shortly before 1 a.m., near the University of California, Berkeley. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Three unidentified men stand at a makeshift memorial for victims of a balcony that collapsed in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Berkeley police said several people were killed and others injured after a balcony fell shortly before 1 a.m., near the University of California, Berkeley. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A woman leaves flowers at a makeshift memorial for victims of a balcony that collapsed in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Berkeley police said several people were killed and others injured after a balcony fell shortly before 1 a.m., near the University of California, Berkeley. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Flowers and a cigarette box form a makeshift shrine near the area where a fourth floor balcony collapsed in Berkeley, Calif. on Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Berkeley police say several people are dead and others injured after a balcony fell shortly before 1 a.m., near the University of California, Berkeley. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Two women embrace while watching sheriff's deputies move the body of a person who died when a fourth floor balcony collapsed in Berkeley, Calif. on Tuesday, June 16, 2015. The two said they knew the victims of the collapse. Berkeley police say several people are dead and others injured after a balcony fell shortly before 1 a.m., near the University of California, Berkeley. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Debris is seen on the sidewalk below a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Five young Irish citizens were killed and at least eight other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Damage is seen at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Five young Irish citizens were killed and at least eight other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Debris is seen on the sidewalk below a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Five young Irish citizens were killed and at least eight other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Berkeley Police officers confer at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Five young Irish citizens were killed and at least eight other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Damage is seen at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Five young Irish citizens were killed and at least eight other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Security guards stand at an entry outside of Highland Hospital, where some victims from a balcony that collapsed were taken, Tuesday, June 16, 2015 in Oakland, Calif. Berkeley police say several people are dead and others injured after a balcony fell shortly before 1 a.m., near the University of California, Berkeley. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
BERKELEY, CA - JUNE 16: A section of collapsed balcony remains on the front of an apartment building new UC Berkeley on June 16, 2015 in Berkeley, California. 5 people were killed and 8 were seriously injured when a balcony collapsed at an apartment building near the University of California at Berkeley campus. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Two women embrace while watching sheriff's deputies move the body of a person who died when a fourth floor balcony collapsed in Berkeley, Calif. on Tuesday, June 16, 2015. The two said they knew the victims of the collapse. Berkeley police say several people are dead and others injured after a balcony fell shortly before 1 a.m., near the University of California, Berkeley. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Damage is seen at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Five young Irish citizens were killed and at least eight other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Damage is seen at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Five young Irish citizens were killed and at least eight other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
The scene at Berkeley pic: NBC
The scene at Berkeley pic: NBC

"When I arrived, there I was right underneath the balcony," he said. "I looked up and I see the balcony right there, balancing, and we have all these people."

His colleague Norma Chappell said the first thing which struck her was the sheer number of injured students lying on the sidewalk underneath the balcony.

"It could at any moment come down, we were still working underneath it and trying to get them out of there," she said.

"And hearing over the radio that more ambulances were on their way, I think at that point is when I started to feel that at least we're getting them out of there."

For police officer Joseph Ledoux, what he saw "didn't look real".

"As soon as the first officers got on they called for more officers. It didn't sound good," he said.

"It was almost looked like a training event, it didn't look real. There was people covered in blood, people asking for help."

He said the tragedy was not like any other for which he had trained or practised.

Books of condolence for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse are opened at Our Lady of Perpetual Succour church in Foxrock, Dublin. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Books of condolence for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse are opened at Our Lady of Perpetual Succour church in Foxrock, Dublin. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Tributes left in a book of condolence in the chapel at St Mary's College in Rathmines, Dublin, where UCD students Niccolai Schuster and Eoghan Culligan studied before they were killed in a balcony collapse in the US. Niall Carson/PA Wire
A flag flies at half mast at Our Lady of Perpetual Succour church in Foxrock, Dublin, to honour the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Candles are lit in memory of the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse at Our Lady of Perpetual Succour church in Foxrock, Dublin. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Members of the public sign a book of condolence at Mansion House in Dublin for those killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Members of the public queue to sign a book of condolence at Mansion House in Dublin for those killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday June 18, 2015. See PA story IRISH Balcony. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Members of the public sign a book of condolence at Mansion House in Dublin for those killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse. Niall Carson/PA Wire
A list of the names of the victims beside a book of condolence at Mansion House in Dublin opened in memory of those killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Dublin Lord Mayor Christy Burke (right) invites members of the public to sign a book of condolence at Mansion House in Dublin for those killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Messages written by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina in a book of condolence opened at Mansion House in Dublin for those killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse. Niall Carson/PA Wire
President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina sign a book of condolence at Mansion House in Dublin for those killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse. Niall Carson/PA Wire
President Michael D Higgins signs a book of condolence at Mansion House in Dublin for those killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse. Niall Carson/PA Wire

"There was a mound of deceased bodies and it was surreal. That's how they landed, that's how they were - and there was nothing we could do for them.

"That was the first time I remember taking a breath, as the last victim was being loaded up into an ambulance ... it seems like kind of a blur but it was a chance to take a breath and look back and look at the balcony right up above us."

The officers - who met families and attended memorials in the days which followed - said they found comfort in the gratitude shown to them by the Irish people.

"As difficult as it was for us, I think all of us agree we can't imagine what it was for the families," said Mr Ledoux. "This is not going to go away. When I drive past that building, it definitely comes back up."

Ms Chappell said she realised it was okay to grieve after the experience.

"It just reminds me I'm also human, I'm also a person and I also will feel certain emotions that everyone else does. It was okay to feel grief and sadness and helplessness."

Irish Independent

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