BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Victims’ family members and dozens of their fellow Irish students — including some who saw them in their final living moments — gathered at a church in Oakland on Friday night for a vigil for four of the six students killed in a balcony collapse this week.
Hearses carried the four metal caskets into St. Columba Catholic church on Friday afternoon.
About 15 of the victims’ immediate family members huddled together in the church’s rectory for about an hour before entering the church for the viewing that was limited to family, friends and fellow students of the dead. Reporters were not allowed inside.
A busload and a van bearing about 50 other Irish students living in the San Francisco Bay Area for the summer, as the four victims were, got to the church just before 6 p.m. to honor the dead. The group included students who had been at the party where the balcony collapsed.
The sanctuary of the predominantly African-American church was decorated with cloths in the colors of the Irish flag and had screens with projected images of all six students who died in each corner of the room.
As the evening wore on, several city officials from Berkeley, where the accident took place, visited to pay respects to the families. They included the city’s mayor, police chief and fire chief, along with first responders who aided the victims the night of the accident came to pay their respects to the students’ parents and families.
Jimmy Deenihan, Ireland’s minister for the diaspora, said the tragedy had garnered great attention in Ireland, and he was touched by how much support for the victims and their families he has found in the U.S.
“You can’t really appreciate the trauma they are going through, only they can,” Deenihan said.
The balcony snapped off the fifth floor of an apartment building during a birthday party Tuesday, tossing 13 people to the street 50 feet below. Six were killed form blunt force injuries. Seven survivors are being treated in hospitals.
Those being honored were Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh, all 21-year-olds from Ireland.
The other two students killed, 22-year-old Ashley Donohe of Rohnert Park, California and 21-year-old Olivia Burke of Ireland, will have a separate funeral in the Bay Area on Saturday.
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