Hundreds gather in Berkeley to remember balcony victims

Hundreds gathered in Civic Center Park Sunday night for a "Month's Mind" to honor and remember those killed in the June 16 balcony collapse. Photo: Ted Friedman
Hundreds gathered in Civic Center Park on the night of July 19, 2015 for a “Month’s Mind” to honor and remember those killed in the June 16 balcony collapse. Photo: Ted Friedman

A month after a fifth-floor balcony snapped off the façade of 2020 Kittredge St. in Berkeley, sending six people in their 20s to their deaths and injuring seven others, hundreds of people gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Sunday to honor them.

The event was a “Month’s Mind,” a traditional Irish requiem mass held a month after a death, according to Philip Grant, the Irish consul general in San Francisco. It is meant to remember and honor the deceased. There is a moment of silence for reflection.

“It’s a moment of reflection on what happened and where we’ve come,” said Grant.

Friends of the six young people who died in the balcony collapse, as well as strangers, light candles in their honor on July 19, 2015. Photo: Ted Friedman
Friends of the six young people who died in the balcony collapse, as well as strangers, light candles in their honor on July 19, 2015 in Berkeley. Photo: Ted Friedman

Prior to the 8:30 p.m. public ceremony, Grant and the consulate held a private reception at City Hall to thank all the police officers, firefighters, hospital workers, city workers, and volunteers who had assisted after the June 16 tragedy. City leaders, Irish students, and family members of those involved with the accident were also there, said Grant.


One of the young people injured in the accident came to the private service and was able to meet one of the first-responders who transported him to the hospital, said Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong. The private reception also gave families of the survivors a chance to connect with firefighters and police who helped out, and to offer their thanks.

Philip Grant, the consul general, talks to the crowd on July 19, 2105. Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan is standing nearby. Photo: Ted Friedman
Philip Grant, the Irish consul general in San Francisco, talks to the crowd on July 19, 2105. Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan and Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong stand nearby. Photo: Ted Friedman
A candle and flowers left to remember those killed in the balcony collapse. Photo: Ted Friedman
A candle and flowers left to remember those killed in the balcony collapse. Photo: Ted Friedman

The balcony fell off the Library Gardens building “like a shopping basket pulled up,” said Grant. Six people died: 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.

Seven people were seriously injured. Six still remain in the United States with some of them suffering from complicated injuries ranging from limb damage, head trauma, spinal injuries and other “life-changing” injuries, said Grant. Four are still in the hospital and will remain in the United States for the foreseeable future for rehabilitation services, said Dong.

Last week, the Berkeley City Council passed new laws that will require the city’s 6,000 balconies to be inspected within the next six months by a licensed contractor and re-inspected every three years. The law affects buildings with three or more units.

Berkeley officials examined the broken balcony shortly after the incident and determined that it failed because of dry rot. The new Berkeley rules call for ventilation in all balconies to help minimize rot, along with other modifications.

The city investigation did not make a determination about the cause of the rot, but the Alameda County district attorney’s office has since taken up the case and is looking into the possibility of whether to file criminal negligence charges in connection with the fatalities. There have been no updates related to the investigation since the initial announcement about the effort in late June, DA’s office spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said last week.

Dong said the tragedy is still fresh for many firefighters.

“The incident is still on everybody’s mind,” he said. “Every time you drive by you think about it.”

A number of firefighters are considering going to Ireland in March 2016 on St. Patrick’s Day to connect again with the victims’ families, he said.

The fire department is still monitoring those members who are still shaken up by the tragedy, said Dong. Both the fire department and police department did a debriefing on the incident and provided counseling to those who responded to the accident.

Related:
Berkeley council approves new laws for building safety (07.15.15)
Op-ed: Let’s say ‘yes’ to a vibrant downtown Berkeley (07.10.15)
Berkeley council to address balcony safety after collapse (07.07.15)
Berkeley balcony survivor is making ‘great progress’ (07.02.15)
Berkeley balcony passed inspection before collapse (07.01.15)
Library Gardens builder seeks to stop DA from examining balcony without it being present (06.30.15)
Irish consul general: J-1 visa student community a source of ‘great pride’ (06.26.15)
DA launches criminal investigation into balcony collapse (06.25.15)
‘Severely dry rotted’ timber found after balcony collapse; city plans to stiffen safety rules (06.23.15)
Church services held for balcony collapse victims (06.20.15)
Protesters demand halt on new construction in Berkeley (06.19.15)
No ‘smoking gun’ in Berkeley balcony design (06.19.15)
As students recover in hospitals, support grows for survivors, victims of balcony collapse (06.18.15)
Coroner releases autopsy results on balcony victims; first responders sought help for stress (06.18.15)
City posts documents from balcony collapse property (06.18.15)
People gather to remember victims of Berkeley balcony collapse (06.18.15)
Firm that built Berkeley complex has been fined, sued (06.18.15)
Support springs up for families, friends of deceased (06.17.15)
As Berkeley orders removal of second balcony, questions over quality of construction (06.17.15)
Berkeley building under scrutiny before balcony collapse (06.17.15)
Mayor, consul general, lay wreaths to honor 6 killed in Berkeley balcony collapse (06.16.15)
Six who died in Berkeley: Young students in their prime (06.16.15)
Six students killed in Berkeley balcony collapse identified (06.16.15)
Berkeley orders balcony removal after tragedy kills 6 (06.16.15)
Berkeley balcony collapse leaves 6 students dead (06.16.15)

Do you rely on Berkeleyside for local news? Support independent journalism by becoming a Berkeleyside member for $5 a month or even less, or by making a one-time donation.