Berkeley tragedy: Six students who died in tragedy have been named
Published 16/06/2015 | 12:15
The six students who were killed after their balcony collapsed in Berkeley have been named.
Ashley Donohoe (22), Olivia Burke (21), Eoghan Culligan (21), Niccolai (Nick) Schuster (21), Lorcan Miller (21) and Eimear Walsh (21) were named as the deceased in a press conference in the Californian city earlier this evening.
All three men and three women, with the exception of Ashley Donohoe, are Irish, and hail from South Dublin. A number of them were students in UCD.
It's understood Ashley Donohoe is originally from California and is a cousin of a young Irish woman who was injured in the incident.
The names of the injured Irish students, aged between 20 and 22, have been confirmed as Clodagh Cogley, Hannah Waters, Niall Murray, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin, Conor Flynn and Aoife Beary.
Aoife Beary is a cousin of Ashley Donohoe, and was sharing the apartment with Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke.
The national flag, the tri-colour, is to be flown at half mast tomorrow in tribute to the Berkeley victims.
The Government announced tonight that all flags at major public buildings will be lowered as a mark of respect to dead victims.
Senior Government officials worked tirelessly this evening to ensure the country paid a fitting tribute, given the shocking scale of the loss of life.
Speaking at the press conference in Berkeley this evening, Irish Consul General Philip Grant thanked the emergency services and people of Berkeley for all their assistance.
Describing the experience as a "traumatic time", he told the assembled press that his department is still in "emergency mode".
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan have been in constant contact throughout the day to see what assistance they could offer, Mr Grant said.
"Very few of us have been left untouched," he added.
Mr Grant also confirmed the Irish victims were in the US on a J1 working visa.
The first of the family members of the victims are expected to land in Berkeley later this evening (Berkeley is nine hours ahead), he said.
Shortly after the press conference concluded, UCD President Andrew Deeks issued a statement expressing his "deepest sadness".
UCD have opened an online book of condolences on their website www.ucd.ie.
"We have also made our counselling and student support services available to students in San Francisco and in Dublin," Mr Deeks said.
"We are deeply appreciative of the Consul General and his office in San Francisco and of the Department of Foreign Affairs for their prompt action in supporting the students at this time.
"We have been in touch with colleagues in University of California Berkeley and they have offered to place their counselling services at the disposal of the Irish students in the area.
"We know the local Irish community has been offering assistance and solidarity and we thank them for this.
"We wish to recognise the Berkeley emergency and hospital services who have been extraordinary in the response and care they have given.
"Our students, like thousands of others across Ireland, head to the US each summer on J1 visas to enjoy the experience. It is heart-breaking to imagine that such a tragedy would strike these wonderful students when their lives are opening up to discover the world," he added.
Earlier today, Berkeley police reported that the fourth-floor balcony of an apartment complex on Kittredge Street had collapsed.
It's understood Irish students were attending a 21sth birthday celebration in the complex when the incident occurred.
Four of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene - the fifth and sixth victims subsequently passed away in hospital.
Just before midday, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan confirmed that the five students who were first reported dead were Irish.
However, the death toll then rose to six at 4.30pm today.
At least seven others who suffered injuries in the incident - some of them life-threatening - are also all Irish.
This evening Minister Flanagan said that the families that have been bereaved in the tragedy have now all been contacted.
“The families who have been bereaved in the tragedy in Berkeley earlier today have now all been contacted. I again want to express my deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in this appalling incident.
"We continue to provide all possible consular assistance to those affected.”
Mr Flanagan described the loss of life as "an appalling tragedy".
Speaking at a hastily arranged press conference in Government Buildings in Dublin when the news first broke this afternoon, Mr Flanagan said: "This is a terrible tragedy. It is with great sadness that I can confirm that following a tragic accident in Berkeley San Francisco, a few hours ago, [a number of] Irish Citizens have lost their lives."
He added: "This is a very challenging and difficult time for the families, for parents of those directly involved. It has been an appalling tragedy, an appalling loss of life."
"Young people with hopes and dreams for the future have suddenly been shattered," the minister said.
"There were a number of other students in the apartment, at what I understand it was a 21st birthday party, who are being treated in nearby hospitals," he added.
"A number of other students have been injured, seven, eight or nine. My understanding is that all of them are Irish," Mr Flanagan confirmed.
He said the department's consular services, headed by top official Philip Grant, is assisting those affected and is at the scene of the tragedy.
He said he had also spoken with US Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O'Malley, who offered his condolences to the Irish people but also his assistance.
His department spent most of today contacting next of kin of those deceased and injured in the incident.
Berkeley Police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats told NBC News the balcony fell to the sidewalk from the top of the four-story building shortly after midnight local time.
“There are four bodies on the sidewalk covered by a tarp,” Stephanie Chung of NBC Bay Area news said in her early morning news reports.
It is being reported that there was a large number of people at the party, and between 12 and 14 people may have been on the small balcony on the fourth floor.
The building is relatively new - dating from 2006.
Speaking in Berkeley today, Consul General Philip Grant said the complex had been used by Irish students since it's construction, and they will have a number of questions to ask about the complex and structure.
The injured have been taken to a number of hospitals across the Bay Area: Highland in Oakland, Eden in Castro Valley and John Nuir in Walnut Creek.
A local reporter outside Highland Hospital, Oakland, told Newstalk that distraught friends have gathered outside.
“A dozen people, possibly friends or family, have gathered at hospital and they are distraught.”
James Mullaney (20), who lives in the same apartment block where the tragedy occurred, said he and his housemates woke up to the sound of sirens on the street.
Speaking to Independent.ie, he described the balconies in the apartments as “small enough”, and he said they might only hold a maximum of six people.
“We’re overlooking the street. We just heard a lot of noise. We were asleep and woke up with the noise of the sirens, there were emergency crews everywhere and tv crews.”
“Right now, there are police across the street and people setting up tv cameras. But the road is not closed.”
“As soon as I saw all the emergency services, I just texted my mother to say ‘in case you hear anything, I’m grand’. She knew as soon as I woke up that I was OK.”
Berkley is a popular area for J1 students since temporary summer work is widely available in the surrounding Bay area.
Law enforcement sources have confirmed to independent.ie a birthday celebration was taking place in the apartment when tragedy struck.
A number of agencies will be involved in the subsequent investigation into the incident which is now underway.
Berkeley Police Department, the Coroner's Office, and the Fire Department will investigate. The fire department will be bringing in structural engineers to look at the balcony.
One question which the authorities will be focusing on is how many people were on the balcony at the time of its collapse.
Coats said officers are still investigating what the people were doing on the structure at the time.
The building has apartments in the upper floors and retails shops at ground level.
President Michael D. Higgins said, “I have heard with the greatest sadness of the terrible loss of life of young Irish people and the critical injury of others in Berkeley, California today.
"My heart goes out to the families and loved one’s of all those involved. I have been informed of the consular assistance being provided to assist all of the families involved and I have asked to be kept informed as further details emerge."
US Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley said: “I would like to offer my heartfelt sympathy and condolence to the families, loved ones, and friends of the Irish students who lost their lives this morning in Berkeley California.
“All of us at the United States Embassy are greatly saddened by news of this tragic incident and are ready to do whatever we can to assist the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs at this difficult time. We will continue to coordinate as more details become available.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, loved ones, and friends at this difficult time.”
USIT and SAYIT have said they would like to express their deepest sympathy and support to all of the J-1 students, their families and their friends in the US and in Ireland who have been involved in this truly tragic situation in Berkeley, California.
"This is a devastating experience for everyone. We are currently working in liaison with the Crisis Centre set up by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs to respond to this emergency," read their statement.
Reverend Brendan McBride of the Irish Immigration Pastoral Centre told RTE News:
"We're here to offer support to the friends involved... The Irish community here has offered overwhelming support. We're using all the resources we can to help in the circumstances."
"This is the worst nightmare for parents. For this to have happened this is unbelievably difficult to deal with.
"Our prayers are with all of them at this time."
**Anyone with concerns about friends or family in the region should call the Emergency Consular Response Team on 01 4180200