RESIDENTS of Kittredge Street, Berkeley woke up to learn the full horror of what had happened in the quiet college community overnight.
Six young people who had come to the area to enjoy a J1 summer in the States – a rite of passage for so many Irish students – had died after falling from a balcony at a birthday party.
Several of their friends were seriously injured.
The street was cordoned off with yellow tape. A handful of red plastic beer cups that lay amongst small piles of concrete rubble were a grim reminder that the students were celebrating when their parents’ worst nightmare happened.
Other Irish J1 students and locals that gathered at the scene were united in their deep shock and upset at what had happened.
In a nearby Starbucks two Irish students were huddled over their iPhones, texting and talking to family members to assure them they were okay. They were too upset to talk about what happened.
“I knew them, sorry, I just don’t want to speak at all,” one told the Herald.
“It will be very hard for the people that are close to them – I’d say a lot of them will go home,” said DCU student Conor Mulligan who arrived in the Bay area on a J1 Visa in May.
He had been at a baseball game when he passed the Library Gardens apartment complex about 45 minutes before the tragedy occurred.
“We didn’t hear a party or see anyone on the balcony. We live about a 10-minute walk away up near the college. We heard the helicopters going over the house at about 6am, so it was pretty crazy,” Conor added.
Jennifer James, originally from Waterford but living in nearby Oakland for 15 years, arrived at 9.30am with a friend to lay flowers and offer support to any students affected by the tragedy.
“It’s very upsetting because we know how it feels to be so far away and to live 6,000 miles away from your family. I’m thinking about the kids who survived and don’t have any support here.”
Local construction worker Morgan Subrayan, who has lived in the area of 26 years, believes dry rot is responsible for the incident and said he is “mad and upset” at what happened.
“It’s so sad, six of them died and it’s just ridiculous. Kids, college students at university,” he said. “But why should the structure come down?”
He said that the city “have to change the rules and that anything above two or three stories has to have a solid iron beam.”
French student Alison Vane said she had looked at apartments in the complex.
“The price put me off – they were very expensive, I think for one bedroom it was close to $2,000-a-month – that’s why I’m shocked about the quality of the balcony for that price and what happened,” she said.
While a helicopter flew overhead, an elderly woman who has lived in North Berkeley since 1957 broke down in tears as she surveyed the scene.
“I am crying for those families,” she said. “I don’t think six people have died in Berkeley all at once in my memory. It’s unthinkable,” another local added.