BERKELEY (KRON) — A group of young Irish citizens in Berkeley for the summer on work visas were celebrating the 21st birthday of a friend when things went horribly wrong.
13 people at an apartment complex blocks from campus plummeted 40 feet when the foundation of a balcony buckled. Six young people lost their lives, seven others are critically injured.
The Alameda County coroner identified the victims on Tuesday afternoon, five of the six people who died were from Ireland.
They are 22-year-old Ashley Donohoe of Rohnert Park, California; 21-year-old Oliva Burke; 21-year-old Eoghan Culligan; 21-year-old Niccolai Schuster; 21-year-old Lorcan Miller and 21-year-old Eimear Walsh, all from Ireland.
According to officials, the balconies at the complex were red-tagged, meaning they were unsafe for use.
“This is a very, very challenging and difficult time for families, parents, and friends of those directly involved. It’s been an appalling tragedy, an appalling loss of life for young people’s hopes and dreams for the future that have suddenly and without hope been shattered” said Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan.
Burke, 21, was expected back at the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, in September to start her final year of a degree in entrepreneurship and management.
Annie Doona, the institute’s president, said Burke was working at a sushi restaurant and sharing an apartment with some of the others killed and injured in the Berkeley balcony collapse.
“She was doing very well, and enjoying herself and making great friends,” Doona said. “It’s terribly sad.”
The school was providing psychological support for students on the campus, she said.
“Although the students have finished, we think that some of them will come here. They’ll want to meet, they’ll want to hug, they’ll want to talk about Olivia, and they’ll want to spend a bit of time just thinking about her and grieving,” Doona said.
Culligan had finished his third year at the Dublin Institute of Technology, where he was studying logistics and supply chain management.
Ballyboden St. Enda’s — the club where he played Gaelic football — posted a tribute to him.
“Eoghan was very popular with his teammates and this tragic news is keenly felt by all members of our Club, but especially by those players and mentors who knew him well,” the club said. “We would like to extend our deepest sympathy to his parents Gerry & Marie and to his brothers Stephen & Andrew and to all the extended Culligan family.”
Donohue, 22, was a first cousin of Burke. She was living north of San Francisco.
Miller was studying medicine at University College Dublin. At his high school, St. Andrew’s College in Booterstown, south Dublin, headmaster Peter Fraser recalled Miller as a “positive, engaging, decent boy who was incredibly talented, but normal, modest and balanced about it all.”
Miller played on the school hockey team, sang in the choir, performed in musicals and took part in the school’s Model United Nations.
“He was hugely popular,” Fraser said.
Schuster, 21, was studying at University College Dublin and had been a student at St. Mary’s College in the Rathmines district near the Irish capital. In 2010, he took part in the Ghana Immersion Project, which sends young people to the West African country, where they attend school with local students and help primary school students learn English.
Walsh, a medical student at UCD, was a high school classmate of Burke’s at Loreto College in Foxrock, south Dublin.
The principal at Loreto described the two girls as smart and beautiful.
“They were in the prime of their lives,” said principal Bernadette Prendiville. “They had a successful time in school, went about their work quietly and had everything going for them, everything ahead of them.”
The Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Foxrock held a vigil Tuesday in the aftermath of the tragedy. Parish priest Frank Herron, who knows the Walsh family, told Irish broadcaster RTE that the community was shocked and the family distraught.
“The tragedy is that they were heading out full of life and full of the joys of summer,” he said. “It’s the last thing anybody would be expecting, that something like this would happen.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.