Laughter, smiles and tears at celebration for Berkeley tragedy cousins who were 'more like twins'
Laughter amid sadness and tears echoed in a university ballroom at a celebration of the lives of Berkeley balcony collapse victims Olivia Burke and Ashley Donohoe.
Amusing stories about the two inseparable cousins caused ripples of laughter among 6,000 people who attended the event at Sonoma State University in California where Ashley was studying biology.
A requiem mass for the cousins earlier in the day was told the cousins were found holding each other after the incident which killed them and four other students after they fell almost 50 feet to the pavement.
The university event placed emphasis on how full of life both cousins were during their short lives. Ashley (22) grew up in the US and Olivia (21) grew up in Ireland but they managed to be together numerous times throughout their lives.
Ashley's sister Amanda said her sister travelled at least 22 times to Ireland to spend time with their cousin.
At the celebration of the women's lives, two giant screens projected photographs of the cousins as children and young women hugging, dressing up and making funny faces.
"Although their lives were really short and ended in a tragic way, they still led full lives with the short time they did have," said Amanda.
"None of us will ever forget them," she added.
Around a dozen family and friends shared memories of the women.
The event included a group of Irish dancers performing while the crowd ate lunch.
Amanda spoke of how she and her sister would sit on her bed at night to laugh and talk and also share their dreams for the future. Both sisters had spoken of wanting to live to be at least 90 if not 100.
Ashley had told Amanda that, when she would eventually die, she would want "a huge party celebrating her life and people telling stories about how awesome she was".
"She was awesome. We got the big [party]. A lot bigger than what she thought," she said.
She told those gathered that the two cousins had spent a huge amount of time together.
"Their personalities, how contagious they were. When they were happy, everybody wanted to be happy with them," she said.
"The biggest thing in all this is that although their lives were cut short in a tragic way, they still led really full lives for the short time they had because every minute they made the most of," she said.
The grieving sister said the two cousins were "self-proclaimed insomniacs" who did not sleep that often because they had just so much to do, adding that "they had all that extra time when we were sleeping".
She believed the duo would really want everyone at the event to smile.
She spoke of them having "big, goofy smiles" and how her family found it impossible to find a photograph of Ashley for the press in which she wasn't making a funny face.
"They're still here with us, just not physically ... although they're gone, none of us will every forget them," she said.
A young man with a bandaged head wept as he spoke of how Ashley was "the kindest, most caring, hard-working person."
Four of Olivia's friends from Foxrock in Dublin smiled and laughed as they recalled a bungee jump that Ashley had insisted they experience.
Earlier on Saturday, Monsignor Dan Whelton told mourners at a funeral for both women that Ashley's grief-stricken mother Jackie told him she had seen their two bodies lying in each other's arms.
He told the congregation Jackie told him she rushed from her home after hearing the news of the tragic deaths.
"She went down to Berkeley and as she saw the bodies they were holding each other.
"They weren't twins but they were very close.
"Ashley went back and forward to Ireland and in life they were like twins and in death they are together too," he said.
The mass was held in the church where Ashley was baptised.
The two caskets were brought into the church to the sound of bagpipes playing She Moved Through The Fair.
Chief mourners were Ashley's parents Jackie and George and sister Amanda and Olivia's parents Paul and Paula and her brother Gavin.
Ashley's parents later accompanied Olivia's parents on the flight which arrived in Ireland yesterday with Olivia's remains.