Parents of Irish students killed in balcony collapse arrive in US

Flowers at St Marys College in Rathmines, Dublin, where UCD students Niccolai Schuster and Eoghan Culligan studied before they were killed in a balcony collapse in the US
Flowers at St Marys College in Rathmines, Dublin, where UCD students Niccolai Schuster and Eoghan Culligan studied before they were killed in a balcony collapse in the US
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An Irish government minister has travelled to the US to give first-hand support to the grieving families of six students killed in a balcony collapse.

The first groups of parents arrived in San Francisco overnight to begin the unenviable task of visiting hospitals and mortuary rooms where their sons and daughters lie.

The victims – five from Ireland and one from California – plunged from a fourth floor apartment in the university city of Berkeley as they attended a 21st birthday party in the early hours of Tuesday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said concerns were also turning to the impact the trauma will have on those who survived the accident and those who witnessed it.

“We are also conscious that many Irish students were not physically injured, but were left deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of friends and classmates in this terrible accident,” he said.

Seven people remain in hospital in California, some critically ill.

The close connections between all the dead and injured – friendships which spanned south Dublin suburbs, old school links and university classes – prompted a raw outpouring of grief at home.

Among the dead were Ashley Donohoe, 22, an Irish-American from Rohnert Park, a city north of San Francisco, and her 21-year-old cousin Eimear Walsh, from Foxrock, south Dublin.

Ms Walsh studied medicine at University College Dublin (UCD), as did Lorcan Miller, also from south Dublin who was described by former teachers at St Andrew’s College Booterstown as an exceptional person and perfectly suited to his chosen career as a doctor.

Headmaster Peter Fraser recalled him.

“The one thing speaking to colleagues this morning was the fact that he was positive, engaging, a decent boy who was incredibly talented, but normal, modest and balanced about it all. He was hugely popular,” Mr Fraser said.

Niccolai Schuster, from Terenure in the Irish capital, was also at UCD and studying history and politics.

Another link was the death of Olivia Burke, also from south Dublin, and Ms Walsh’s friend from their school days in Loreto College Foxrock.

She studied at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology.

Bernadette Prendiville, principal at Loreto, said: “They were just two beautiful students.”

Eoghan Culligan, a student at Dublin Institute of Technology, was a passionate gaelic footballer and had gone to St Mary’s College in Rathmines, Dublin with Niccolai Schuster. They were all 21 and in the US on J1 working visas for the summer, a rite of passage for young people at college in Ireland.

The tricolour yesterday flew at half mast at government buildings as the Republic’s Dail parliament held a minute’s silence and suspended normal business as a mark of respect.