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Students 'deeply shocked' by deaths in Berkeley balcony collapse

Grief counseling offered to students grieving deaths in Berkeley balcony collapse

A day after six students were killed when a balcony collapsed at an apartment complex in Berkeley, the Irish government and the country's consulate in San Francisco say they have set up an incident center and are meeting with relatives of the victims.

Counseling has been offered to hundreds of Irish students in the Bay Area for the summer who were “deeply shocked” and “saddened” by the sudden death of the students. An incident center has been set up at City Hall in Berkeley for those affected by the tragedy.

Charlie Flanagan, Ireland's minister for foreign affairs, said many Irish students were “not physically injured, but were left deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of friends and classmates.”

The Irish Consulate urged students to stay strong.

“To the J-1 students of the Bay Area who stood by each other and the families of their friends throughout this darkest of days, remain strong,” the consulate said, referring to the J-1 visa program under which the students were in the U.S.

Meanwhile, families of the students who were killed and injured were traveling to the Bay Area on Wednesday.

Five of the six students who died were from Ireland. Seven others were injured.

The five Irish victims were identified by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office as Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcan Miller, Eimear Walsh and Niccolai Schuster, all 21 years old. Earlier statements had given Burke's first name as Oliva.

The sixth student, 22-year-old Ashley Donohoe, lived in Rohnert Park, 50 miles north of San Francisco. She was Burke's cousin, according to the Irish Times.

Of the seven students who suffered injuries, some were in critical condition, according to the sheriff’s office.

Police said 13 people were on the balcony of the Library Gardens apartments at 2020 Kittredge Street when its collapsed about 12:42 a.m. Tuesday.

On Wednesday, rubble and debris from the collapsed balcony sat in large plastic bags in the street.

As city workers continued inspecting the building, a pile of flowers, flags and cards on either end of the cordoned-off block grew. The sidewalk was stained with fresh wax from the candles people lit for the victims.

Most of the people leaving cards and flowers didn’t personally know the students, but they could have. In a college town full of local and international students, the students killed could have been anyone’s son, daughter, sibling, friend or neighbor.

“I did not get the privilege of knowing your names, but seeing you in our hallways, always laughing and chatting together as a group frequently made me smile,” read a note attached to a bouquet of flowers from a neighbor. “Our hallways will be much quieter without your friendly energy, and for that you will be sorely missed.”

Engineers who visited the scene said dry rot could be a factor in the collapse. Gene St. Onge, a civil and structural engineer in Oakland, said broken wooden beams protruding from the building that had held up the balcony showed what looks like signs of dry rot.

City spokesman Matthai Chakko said an investigation was underway and city inspectors were examining the damaged materials.

“Results of the city investigation are expected to take several days,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, government officials ordered the country’s flag to be flown at half staff and mourners grieved for the victims. Hundreds attended a Mass on Tuesday night in their memory at Foxrock Parish Dublin.

"We'll be keeping everyone involved in our prayers; Eimear, Olivia, Ashley, Eoghan, Niccolai and Lorcan; their families and their friends. We pray too for those injured in the accident, that they make a full recovery and come home safe," the church said on Facebook.

Another Mass will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Light of Christ Cathedral in Oakland in honor of the students.

At Highland Hospital in neighboring Oakland, where some of the injured students were taken, one family member paced at the entrance to the emergency department.

“I’m shattered,” said the relative, who declined to give his name. “We just got in from Ireland last night, we haven’t slept.”

The University of Dublin set up an online book of condolence, allowing students to express their grief over the deaths of their classmates.

University President Andrew Deeks said “we cannot comprehend the desperate shock and grief they are feeling and we are heartbroken at their suffering and loss.”

“Our students, like thousands of others across Ireland, head to the U.S. each summer on J-1 visas to enjoy the experience. It is heartbreaking to imagine that such a tragedy would strike these wonderful students when their lives are opening up to discover the world,” he said in a statement.

Peter Fraser, headmaster of St. Andrew's College, told a Dublin radio station that Miller graduated from the school in 2012. Described as an outstanding student, Miller sang in the choir and was a “adept debater,” he said.

"The nature of Lorcan's loss will be hugely and widely felt," Fraser said. "Lorcan had everything to live for ... and in a moment, his life has been taken from us."

Schuster lived in Dublin and attended St. Mary’s College. He was a fan of the Golden State Warriors, according to his Facebook page.

Culligan studied at the Dublin Institute of Technology, where school officials said students were mourning his death.

“Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the young people affected by today's tragic event in Berkeley, California. We are aware that many DIT students have close friends who have been directly affected,” the school said in a statement.

Burke was in her third year at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dublin, where she studied entrepreneurship and management, according to the school.

Staff writer Rocha reported from Los Angeles, staff writer Lien from Berkeley and special correspondent Boyle from Dublin.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

1:28 p.m.: This story has been updated with new details throughout, including a service planned Wednesday night in Oakland.

This story was first published at 7:25 a.m.

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