Parents make an emotional visit to Library Gardens
Published 20/06/2015 | 02:30
They emerged into the Berkeley sunshine, arm in arm with pain etched equally on all their faces.
The long journey across the Atlantic to San Francisco had led them to this horrible place.
But at least the rubble from the collapsed balcony was gone and in its place was a shrine to their lost children.
Some of the parents struggled to look up to where the balcony of apartment 405 should have been. Siblings shook as they tried to remain strong.
Holding each other and consoling each other, they shared the moment of grief.
They surveyed the cards, homemade posters and other tributes left for Olivia, Lorcán, Eimear, Eoghan, Ashley and Niccolai.
Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan laid a wreath and stood back, struggling to contain his own emotions. He said afterwards that as a father and fellow Irishman he was proud to be in a position to stand there on behalf of the Irish Government and the country which is mourning six stolen lives.
It was the dignity of the families whose lives had been torn asunder that struck him most.
"To see where the accident happened, to look up at four storeys... and then you're standing on raw concrete. To see where people fell down on that concrete. It was fortunate that more were not killed," he said.
"And then to see the parents present at that location where they lost their loved ones, and to see them looking at the balcony where it was, and just imagining the last moments of their children, that was very tough.
"They're trying to come to terms with this thing that was totally unexpected.
"Sometimes people might have an accident. It could be a car, it could be a drowning accident but this is just something you would not expect to happen, the collapse of a balcony in California."
The minister said it was "one of the most tragic events that has happened abroad for Irish people in the history of the country".
As they walked the streets under a cloudless sky, the families were greeted by other students, many of whom had known the victims. Some are planning to go home now for the funerals or in the coming weeks.
Travel agent USIT confirmed to the Irish Independent that it has received an "unquantifiable" number of queries from worried students in the US but said it is too soon to say how many students plan to end their working holiday in the wake of the tragedy.
The company said it would be dealing "on a case by case" basis with any students who do express a desire to come home.
Mr Deenihan said the families have been "totally overwhelmed" by the support in Berkeley.
"It's helping them cope. They're very appreciative of that support that they're getting. It's making things easier for them," he said.
"Personally, I'm totally inspired by the level of support they've given each other, the families. The fact that they have each other is such a big help. "They're the only ones who can fully understand individually what they're going through at this moment in time, the loss they have suffered."
Liam Kelly in Berkeley