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Tuesday 27 June 2017

'We failed these kids by allowing this' - Mothers of Berkeley tragedy victims give harrowing testimonies

Jackie Donohoe said her daughter Ashley will be 'forever 22'

Jackie Donohoe speaks yesterday, and (inset) the six who died in Berkeley
Jackie Donohoe speaks yesterday, and (inset) the six who died in Berkeley

Meadhbh McGrath

The mothers of two of the Berkeley balcony collapse victims have described their suffering in heartbreaking testimonies to a California State Senate hearing.

Jackie Donohoe, from Rohnert Park, California, spoke movingly about how she and her family have suffered after the loss of their beloved daughter Ashley (22) and their niece, Olivia Burke (21).

The six students who lost their lives in the tragic accident, top left to bottom right: Lorcan Miller, Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Ashley Donohoe, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke
The six students who lost their lives in the tragic accident, top left to bottom right: Lorcan Miller, Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Ashley Donohoe, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke

Earlier Angela Beary followed her daughter Aoife's testimony. She said: "I'm very, very, very angry that my bright, intelligent independent 22-year-old daughter, instead of now spreading her own wings should now find herself under mine  through the negligence of others."

Aoife Beary: Full testimony

"I am a survivor of the Berkeley balcony collapse that happened at my 21st birthday party. My friends and I were so looking forward to our summer in Berkeley.

"We had already travelled a lot and spent our summers in Vancouver, Thailand and Vietnam since we have started college. I could never have imagined how it would have ended.

"I miss my friends so much. I have known them since we started school together at four years of age. We had grown up together and now my birthday will always be their anniversary.

"While I have to deal with the loss of my friends I also have to deal with all my own injuries which included a traumatic brain injury, open heart surgery, broken arms, hands, pelvis and jaw along with losing all my teeth.

"I had lacerations in my liver, kidney and spleen. I had a collapsed lung and broken ribs. None of this needed to happen. Some of my injuries will be with me for the rest of my life. I have lost a lot of my independence. My career goals have been stopped. I couldn’t finish my final year and my college degree as I have been unable to return to college.

"My life has been changed forever. I cannot believe that you are even debating this bill. People died. You should make sure that balconies are scrutinised in this state to prevent this happening again. Thank you for listening to me."

Aoife from Blackrock, Co Dublin, survived the horrific accident that saw six of her friends Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Ashley Donohoe, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster and Eimear Walsh killed when a balcony collapsed at the Library Gardens Apartments in Berkeley, California. A further seven students were left with life-changing injuries after the accident, during Aoife's birthday party celebrations on June 16, 2015.

The balcony was constructed by a firm that had a history of legal claims against it, which it had not disclosed to the state license board.

Ms Donohoe told the hearing: “We all try to do everything that we can to teach our kids right from wrong. For me, (when) my daughter was growing up, it was always ‘don’t drink and drive’, ‘don’t drive too fast’, ‘stay safe’, text me when you get there’ and ‘text me when you’re leaving’. My daughter did all those things."

She recalled how Ashley had texted her as instructed once she arrived at the party, but she could never have anticipated what would happen later.

Ashley Donohoe
Ashley Donohoe

“I really believe we failed these kids by allowing this to happen. I would never in a million years think of saying, ‘Ashley, don’t walk out on a balcony in the United States of America’.”

Mrs Donohoe also described the heartbreaking moment when her husband received a belated Father’s Day present from Ashley, weeks after her death.

“On Father’s Day of that year, 2015, we were actually on a flight home to Ireland for the funerals. When we got back, my husband George got a t-shirt with ‘I love you Da’, with a picture of Ashley sitting on his lap, he was dressed as Santa from the Christmas before. She had sent it to a friend’s house so that he wouldn’t see it,” she said.

“For me, for Mother’s Day, the last Mother’s Day I got a necklace that said ‘I love you to the moon and back’. I will never get anything else from my daughter.”

Ashley had just turned 22 when she died, and was due to graduate from college this year.

“She should be here today. She should have graduated on May 24 this year. Her birthday, she would have been 23, but she’s not here. She’ll be forever 22,” her mother said.

“She’ll never get married. Her father will never walk her up the aisle, and her cousin Olivia will never be her bridesmaid.

“I will tell you one thing. Her father carried her up the aisle – he carried her coffin up the aisle and her beloved friend Olivia did follow her (…) She came after her in her coffin.”

Angela, left and Aoife Beary, center, listen with Vice Consul Kevin Byrne of the Irish Consulate General, right, as state lawmakers in the Assembly Appropriations Committee discuss SB465 in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Darcy Costello)
Angela, left and Aoife Beary, center, listen with Vice Consul Kevin Byrne of the Irish Consulate General, right, as state lawmakers in the Assembly Appropriations Committee discuss SB465 in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Darcy Costello)

Ms Donohoe pleaded with the committee to support the bill, and said she believed her daughter’s death could have been prevented.

“We never want to see another family go through the same pain and suffering,” she said.

She added that she was “speaking out in honour of those who no longer have a voice”.

“The parents of the five other victims who were killed, they’ll never get their children back, and the injured kids will never be the same. So many lives have been changed, that’s why it’s so important for this bill to pass,” she said.

Earlier Angela Beary told the committee that her daughter Aoife and pals were so excited as they planned their J1 trip to Berkeley In the early days of 2015.

She explained that she was a little concerned by the banking details requested by Library Gardens but it seemed "trivial".

She continued: "In late May at Dublin airport we hugged and kissed our children. Gave them the usual last-minute advice and warnings and we sent them on their way, full of laughter smiles and excitement. Many of them never came home.

"The loss of Aisling, Eimear and Olivia along with Eoghan, Lorcán and Niccolai brings a profound sadness to us all. Not a day passes by without us remembering them all and the incredible grief that their families have to bare ewvery day.

"I know that I speak now on behalf of the 13 families when I say that after balcony collapse all our lives have been irrevocably changed and our lives will never be the same again."

"While Aoife has made significant progress in her recovery I, as her mother, am very very very angry that my bright, intelligent independent 22-year-old daughter, instead of now spreading her own wings should now find herself under mine  through the negligence of others."

The Beary family meet Jack Boyd, the cardiac surgeon who performed Aoife’s open heart surgery Photo: Mike Beary
The Beary family meet Jack Boyd, the cardiac surgeon who performed Aoife’s open heart surgery Photo: Mike Beary

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