Stephen Ellison

One Year After Balcony Collapse, Families and Friends of Victims Try to Cope

One year after six students were killed in a balcony collapse, a fresh memorial emerged Thursday at the Berkeley apartment complex where it happened.

Friends, family and caring residents placed flowers and notes outside the Library Gardens apartment complex on Kittredge Street to remember the young Irish students who plunged 40 feet to their deaths last June 17 during a birthday celebration.

Gina Trombino remembers trying to contact her friend Niccolai Schuster that fateful night.

"I kept trying to call Nick on his phone," she said. "It kept going to voice mail."

Schuster was one of the five Irish students who died when the fourth-floor balcony collapsed. The others were Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcan Miller, Eimear Walsh, all 21. The sixth victim was Ashley Donohoe, a 22-year-old Irish American from Rohnert Park.

"Some of my friends were here when the balcony collapsed," Trombino said, "just looking at the people, you know, in the street. The red cups, socks, people were missing shoes, people were running around."

Five of the students were part of an Irish work-exchange exchange program.

"I was just completely shocked," said Dillon Kennedy, an Irish national. "I couldn’t believe that it happened. Everyone over here, the Irish that come over here, they are just such a tight community."

On Wednesday night, family and friends gathered for a Mass at the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center in Berkeley to celebrate the lives of the victims.

A year after the collapse, Berkeley has implemented new balcony construction and inspection rules. City leaders say more than 400 balconies are being repaired or will be repaired as a result of the new rules.

"It’s unfortunate that a horrible tragedy is going to turn out to be something in the long run that will be better for people and will prevent it from occurring in the future," Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said.

Investigators found that wooden beams anchoring the balcony to the building sustained dry-rot as a result of moisture seeping under the balcony's concrete floor and into the beams. Five companies involved in the construction of the Library Gardens apartment building were cited by a state licensing board in April for performing inferior work that led to the collapse.

For family and friends of the victims, they're still just trying to cope with the loss.

"It's just really hard today for all the things he could have been, he should have been," Trombino said of Schuster. "He just loved life."

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