By Tracey Taylor and Emilie Raguso
Update, 4:40 p.m. According to the city of Berkeley, Philip Grant, the Consul General of Ireland to the Western United States, will have a wreath-laying ceremony at 5 p.m. near the site of the balcony collapse.
The city expects its investigation into what caused the collapse to take several days: “As part of the City’s investigation of the incident, the City will be retaining possession of the collapsed materials. Building and Safety staff have been on scene since early Tuesday morning, shortly after the collapse. Once the damaged materials are removed from the building, they will be taken to a City facility and will remain under City control.”
City staff members have taken other steps, as well, to document the scene and the damage. Inspectors have already been inside the unit, and have “completed an up-close, aerial investigation using cranes to examine the damage,” the city reported just after 4:30 p.m. At that time, the city also released property records related to the building where the accident took place.
Update, 3:30 p.m. At around 3:15 p.m., crews in downtown Berkeley used a crane to remove the fifth-floor balcony at Library Gardens, which fell in the early hours of Tuesday, killing six people.
ORIGINAL STORY: The six people who died early Tuesday morning after a balcony collapsed in downtown Berkeley have been identified as Ashley Donohoe, 22, from Rohnert Park; and Olivia Burke, Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster and Lorcán Miller, all 21 years old and from Ireland.
At a press conference that started at around 1:15 p.m., Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland to Western United States, said: “Our hearts are breaking but it is so good to know that so many people stand with us.”
Listen to an audio recording of the press conference below.
The six young adults, three men and three women, were killed after a fifth-floor balcony collapsed at the 176-unit Library Gardens building at 2020 Kittredge St. in downtown Berkeley early Tuesday morning. (Editor’s note: Initially authorities said the balcony was on the fourth floor, because it was on the fourth residential story in the building.)
The Irish Times identified Donohoe, the young woman from Rohnert Park who died, as a cousin of one of the Irish students injured during the collapse. According to the Irish Times, “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.”
Authorities received reports beginning at 12:40 a.m. regarding a fifth-floor balcony that had collapsed in the apartment complex. There have been six confirmed fatalities of young people, five of whom were from Ireland and were living in the Bay Area for the summer as part of a popular work-exchange program.
Seven others were critically injured, and were taken by ambulance to Highland Hospital in Oakland, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, and John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. No updates were available at the press conference about the condition of the survivors.
Grant, the consul general, addressed the media along with Berkeley officials and a representative from the Alameda County sheriff’s department.
He said there are around 700 Irish students working in the Bay Area through an exchange program this summer. He said the program is a “formative experience” for many Irish students, and offers them a chance to experience America.
“To have this happen at the start of this season is something that has left us all frozen in shock and in disbelief,” he said.
Grant said the families of the students from the accident will begin arriving in the Bay Area on Tuesday night.
He said grief counselors have already been dispatched to hospitals where the victims are being treated, and described the local Irish exchange student community as very close knit. Most of those students are likely to have known someone who was at the party, was injured or who died Tuesday morning, he said.
Grant said he is very concerned to learn about what caused the balcony collapse, but that his first priority has been to help support the families of those who were injured or died Tuesday morning.
Grant thanked all of Berkeley’s emergency services for their support and strength, adding: “We’re still in an emergency response mode. It’s been a very traumatic time for us, for the people back in Ireland, all those families.”
He continued: “Ireland is a small country. Very few of us have been left untouched by this tragedy.”
Grant noted that Library Gardens had been used for lodging “over a number of years” by Irish exchange students, as well as other students in Berkeley.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates described Tuesday morning’s accident as “a wake-up call” as far as building inspections in the city, though he said city staff are already careful about safety inspections as it is.
“We’ll get to the bottom of what this one is,” he said. Bates described Tuesday’s tragedy as “a really shocking set of events,” adding, “We’re now trying to recover… and understand what we can do to ensure that things like this don’t happen in the future.”
Alameda County sheriff’s department spokesman J.D. Nelson released the names of the deceased, and said it was the sheriff’s department that had been charged with making the family notifications earlier in the day.
Nelson said it had been a difficult task and that, for the six families of the deceased, it was likely to have been “the worst phone calls they’re every going to get in their life.”
(Nelson identified accident victim Burke as “Oliva,” but other sources and her Facebook page indicate that her name was actually “Olivia.”)
Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said the police department received a single call about a noise complaint at Library Gardens just after midnight. He said officers did not respond because, four minutes later, dispatchers began to receive numerous reports that shots had been fired in South Berkeley.
When the department received the call at 12:42 a.m. about the balcony collapse, officers arrived on the scene within two minutes.
Meehan also noted, in response to a question from the media, that even if officers had responded to the initial call, they likely would not have entered the unit — apartment 405 — where noise had been reported.
Meehan said the department is reviewing the 911 calls associated with the fatalities, but said they have not yet been released, in deference to the families of the victims.
City of Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko said it is too soon to confirm what had been taking place at the apartment associated with the fatality. He said he did not know the size of the balcony connected to the apartment, but that the required load under the city code would have been 60 pounds per square foot.
(Update: The city has since said the balcony was approximately 53.75 inches by 106.75 inches, or about 4.5 feet by 8.9 feet, with a weight threshold of 60 pounds per square foot.)
Meanwhile, a few streets from where the press conference took place, many people had gathered near the Library Gardens apartment building on Kittredge to mourn the students who lost their lives. Many were young Irish men and women. They had erected makeshift shrines with flags, flowers and cards, and many were in tears, and hugging each other. Those who were asked said they did not want to speak to a reporter.
Earlier in the day, Sinead Loftus, 21, a student majoring in history and politics at Trinity College Dublin, who had come to the Bay Area to do a work study program, said: “The Irish community is so small here — it could be anybody. We’re all in the same boat here. I’m just in complete and total shock.”
Loftus, who lives nearby, said she had talked to her father earlier in the day, who was relieved to hear she was safe.
“My friends were freaking out,” she said.
Berkeleyside will continue to update this story as more information becomes available. Emily Dugdale, Lance Knobel, Frankie Paris and Eden Teller contributed to this story.
Six students killed in Berkeley balcony collapse identified (06.16.15)
Berkeley orders balcony removal after tragedy kills 6 (06.16.15)
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