Tears amid the silence as 1,000 gather to grieve
OVER 1,000 J1 students, relatives and friends gathered in Berkeley for candlelight vigils and services in memory of the six people killed when a balcony collapsed.
Two separate tributes were held for the dead and injured students last night - the first was a Mass in the Catholic Cathedral in Oakland, concelebrated by Bishop Michael Barber of the Oakland Archdiocese, and Fr Aidan McAleenan, and the second was a candlelight vigil in Dr Martin Luther King Civic Centre Park.
The latter event was organised by the students, who publicised it only within their own ranks. Hundreds of people, mostly students, attended.
Prayers were said for the dead and injured, with a local priest conducting the service while the candles burned brightly in the gathering gloom.
The dignity of the total silence, broken only by the sound of passing traffic and the prayers, reflected the depth of feeling among the student community and local people who also attended.
At the finish one girl moved forward into the wide circle to place two pictures of Niccolai Schuster on a park bench.
She was followed by another girl with a printed tribute to Lorcan Miller and after that students filed up to place their candles around the bench, making it a shrine to their lost friends.
Everyone who attended last night was still struggling to come to terms with the scale of the tragedy.
Dave Martin (22), from Blackrock in Dublin, remembered Lorcan Miller from St Andrews College and was briefly in the same college class as Olivia Burke. "I was a year ahead of Lorcan. I wasn't a direct friend of his, but friends of mine played hockey with him," he said.
"He was a good hockey player, he did Model United Nations . . . was a very nice guy. Just your standard good guy. He never deserved anything like this."
The bodies of the six students who died on Monday night are expected to be released to their families later this afternoon, once all the formalities are completed.
Fr Aidan McAleenan who - lives in the San Francisco area, but is originally from Co Down - said the grieving families who arrived in Berkeley were "just putting one foot in front of the other".
It has emerged that the two cousins who lost their lives - Olivia Burke (21), from Foxrock, and Ashley Donohoe (22), from California - will have a funeral ceremony together in the US on Saturday, before Olivia is brought home for burial in Ireland.
"The two cousins will have a joint funeral in Rohnert Park, it's about an hour-and-a-half north of San Francisco," Fr McAleenan said. "They will have a joint funeral there and then the young woman will be buried, and then they'll bring Olivia home to Dublin."
The Irish Immigration Pastoral Centre in San Francisco has set up an online account to raise funds for the students affected by this tragedy and to assist the immediate needs of their families.
To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/j1tragedyfund.