Friends of victims and J1 visa students in Berkeley hold vigil

Bodies of students to arrive home as of Sunday morning

The bodies of the Irish students killed in the balcony collapse in California on Tuesday will start arriving in Ireland on Sunday morning.

The bodies of Niccolai (Nick) Schuster (21), Eimear Walsh (21), Lorcán Miller (21) and Eoghan Culligan (21) will be flown back on a scheduled flight from San Francisco after the friends of the students and other J-1 visa students in the area held a vigil on Friday night.

Some of the 300-strong members of the Irish J-1 community formed a guard of honour for the students as friends projected photographs of the deceased on a local church’s walls.

The first repatriations come after close family members waited for all of the families to arrive before seeing the remains of their children.


The bodies of the first four students to be returned to Ireland will be on the Aer Lingus flight from San Francisco leaving at 5.20pm on Saturday and arriving into Dublin Airport at about 11.30am on Sunday.

Mr Miller's parents arrived in San Francisco on Thursday on the same flight that brought Minister of State for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan to California to represent the Government.


A joint funeral service for

Olivia Burke

(21) and her cousin

Ashley Donohoe

(22), an Irish-American and daughter of Irish parents, will be held on Saturday morning at 10.30am local time (6.30pm Irish time) in St Joseph’s

Catholic Church

in Cotati, near Ms Donohoe’s home in Rohert Park in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco.

Ms Donohoe is being buried in her hometown, while Ms Burke’s family will bring her remains back to Ireland possibly on Sunday, arriving in Ireland on Monday morning.

Caskets containing the remains of Mr Schuster, Ms Walsh, Mr Miller and Mr Culligan were brought on Friday to St Columba's Catholic Church in Oakland, 8km from the Berkeley apartment from which the six students fell to their deaths on Tuesday.

The families of the four had private time with their loved ones, after which very close friends and then a broader group of J-1 students spent the night with the remains before their return to Ireland.

Mr Deenihan said the vigil was to allow family and close friends to spend private time with their loved ones and then for friends from the wider J-1 community to come and sympathise with the parents.


“I am really inspired with the level of togetherness between the families. They’re helping each other, they are consoling each other because it is only themselves really that know the pain that they are going through,” he said.

“Nobody else can really verbalise this thing so the fact that they are here together is really helping them get over this part of their grieving.”

Ahead of the vigil, Mr Deenihan visited some of the injured students in John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek, a town to the east of Berkeley.

He said he met injured student Conor Flynn and the parents of another, Jack Halpin, on his visit to the hospital.

Mr Halpin’s parents said they were very optimistic that Jack was going to make a full recovery and that Conor was in a very comfortable position and is “very positive too about his chances of recovery”.

“He is doing remarkably well for somebody who had such a very lucky escape,” said the Minister.

A spokesperson for hospital said the condition of two young men injured in the Berkeley collapse has improved, and can now be described as “fair”.

All seven are from Dublin. Mr Flynn is from Mount Merrion, Mr Halpin is from Rathmines. The other injured are Niall Murray of Rathfarnham, Seán Fahey of Rathmines, Clodagh Cogley of Clonskeagh, Aoife Beary of Blackrock and Hannah Waters of Castleknock.



Philip Grant

, the Irish Consul General based in the city, said the reason why some of the families waited to see the remains of the relatives even though they arrived earlier in the week was because they wanted to do it at one time accompanied by all families travelling from Ireland.

“Everyone was asking us why, why, why. They wanted to wait collectively and see,” said Mr Grant.

“Rather than go down just to a normal viewing room in a funeral home, they wanted to actually create a space where they can grieve with their loved ones, where they can grieve together.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times