News Berkeley Tragedy

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Berkeley mayor hits out at 'bureaucratic nightmare' for families

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, left, listens as Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland of the Western United States, speaks to reporters in Berkeley, California
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, left, listens as Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland of the Western United States, speaks to reporters in Berkeley, California

Shona Murray and Liam Kelly Berkeley

The parents of the students killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse are preparing to make the agonising journey home with their loved ones' remains this weekend.

But they are being frustrated by "bureaucratic red tape" which was delaying the process of repatriation last night.

Families of the five deceased Irish youngsters are still working closely with the authorities to bring home their loved ones, after three days of anguish.

The earliest departure is likely to be tomorrow - but sources said that Sunday is looking increasingly likely. A special flight has been provisionally booked with Aer Lingus for that day.

A joint memorial service will be held for Irish-American Ashley Donohoe and her cousin Olivia Burke tomorrow.

The Irish students who died on Tuesday - Olivia, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcán Miller and Eimear Walsh, are expected back on Irish soil on Monday at the latest.

Irish Consul General Philip Grant said the timeline for repatriation was still open, due to the need for co-ordination of arrangements between the Berkeley authorities, the undertakers, the families and the airline.

It had been hoped that the families could see the bodies early yesterday, and according to Father Aidan McAleenan, priest at St Columba Catholic Church in Oakland, California, they had been preparing for this.

But mortuaries in Alameda County do not provide facilities for families to view their loved ones; this can only happen when the undertaker steps in. It is not clear if this part of the process has been completed.

Meetings between the office of the coroner, the families and other relevant authorities were taking place in order to facilitate the repatriation.

Mayor of Berkeley Tom Bates said: "It is unimaginable to lose your son or daughter; and then to run in to some bureaucratic nightmare is just awful."

Mr Grant said: "We brought the families together with various elements in Berkeley. Representatives of the Coroners Office, the undertakers, from the police, the fire service were there.

"We were basically walking the families through how the process works here and also to make connections for them, for example where they've booked their flights, do we need to change them...

"The ultimate objective is to bring them home as quickly as we can with their families at the same time."

Aer Lingus has provisionally organised the flight to take home the deceased on Sunday, but some families are said to want to repatriate them sooner; tomorrow if at all possible.

Friends and extended families have also made the journey to Berkeley in a show of solidarity; as have parents of students who were in the apartment at Kittredge Street on the night of the tragedy.

There was no change in the condition of any of the other students who have been injured, including Aoife Beary and Hannah Waters who have critical injuries.

Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong revealed that the large number of casualties and the age of the victims deeply affected the firefighters and police officers who first responded to the scene.

Some members of the fire and police departments took part in "diffusing" sessions and counselling, with some first responders also seeking counselling at a local hospital.

"It was probably one of the worst multi-casualty events I can recall during my time in Berkeley," the Fire Chief said.

Post-mortem results last night confirmed that the six students died from multiple blunt injuries.

The others injured are Clodagh Cogley, Jack Halpin, Conor Flynn, Niall Murray and Sean Fahey, who last night posted on Facebook: "Thanks everyone for the support in such a dark time RIP."

Irish Independent

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