On June 16, 2015, 13 people were standing on the balcony of an apartment block in Berkeley, California when it collapsed. Six people perished in the accident, five of whom were 21-year-old Irish students on their J1 visa, while the other was a 22-year-old Irish-American. Seven others suffered injuries as a result of the fall.
Two years on from the incident, we look back on what happened that night and what has come to light since then.
The accident happened at a 21st birthday party on the 5th floor of on an apartment building at 2020 Kittredge Street in Berkeley, then called Library Gardens. The five students, all from Dublin, were Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai 'Nick' Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke, as well as Burke's US resident cousin Ashley Donohue.
The media reaction at the time was sombre as the nation mourned the tragic loss of young lives, but the New York Times received criticism for seemingly pointing the finger of blame at the partygoers themselves.
The world-renowned newspaper stated that:
"the work-visa program that allowed for the exchanges has in recent years become not just a source of aspiration, but also a source of embarrassment for Ireland".
Former President Mary McAleese and former Taoiseach Enda Kenny criticised the paper over its lack of sensitivity, forcing the NYT to apologise, claiming they never intended to blame the victims.
Tributes poured in, not just from Ireland but all around the world. German footballing legend Bastian Schweinsteiger, who had once met Nick Schuster, posted a tribute to the victims on his Facebook.
"The news makes me very sad. I wish much strength for this difficult time for you, the family and all relatives of Nick. I would like to express my condolences also to all other sufferers of this accident."
One of the survivors, Clodagh Cogley, posted an uplifting update just over a week after the terrible accident.
The fall from the balcony left me with 2 collapsed lungs, a broken shoulder, a broken knee, 5 broken ribs and a broken spinal cord... Meaning the chances of me using my legs again are pretty bleak.
Not the best odds, but I'm moving to a great rehabilitation center here in San Francisco for 2 months (it has dog therapy) and intend to give it everything I've got.
Who knows maybe legs have been holding me back all these years and I'll realize my talent for wheelchair basketball.
Clodagh returned to University that December and has since called for tougher building standards.
Emergency changes to California building code were introduced in order to address areas of loading, drainage, ventilation, and maintenance of “exterior elevated elements” in state-owned buildings, including hotels, apartments and public schools. The rules cover balconies, exterior stairways, and walkways.
In January of this year, a review of buildings in the local Berkeley area found that up to 800 structures are in need of repair to be in line with the new standards.
In May an out-of-court settlement was reached between the families of the deceased and the survivors and with several companies involved in the construction of the building. The lawsuit was dropped, but the defendants will have to pay out €18 million. However, lawsuits remain open against a number of other defendants in the case, including the owner of the Library Gardens apartment block, trillion dollar asset management fund Blackrock, and the property’s manager, South Carolina-based property company Greystar.
Earlier this month the publication of a review into the accident has found that the contractor, who had their licence revoked this past April, was responsible for construction failures in the balcony. East Bay Times reported that Segue Construction "used cheaper, weaker material on the balcony than plans specified. That material then became waterlogged after a sub-subcontractor failed to install a membrane to keep out moisture."
The tragic nature of the deaths is only compounded two years on knowing that it was entirely avoidable.