#Berkeley: reflections on the balcony collapse

An Irish flag hangs from a railing at Library Gardens. Photo: Siciliana Trevino

Two days after the Library Gardens balcony collapsed I visited the memorial for six of its young victims. I saw the news on Twitter around 6 am the morning it happened on Tuesday, June 16th. I resisted the impulse to go there and film knowing I’d feel more like a gawking tourist than a local filmmaker.

If I find myself close to breaking news around town sometimes I’ll tweet photos. I’m not in a rush though to play citizen journalist when the story involves thirteen young adults falling from the 5th floor of an apartment complex next to Berkeley’s Central Library. I didn’t want to see one of my city’s favorite gathering spaces through the lens of tragedy and death. I didn’t want us to be responsible for losing these kids.

Nor could I look away and deny it. I turned to the city’s best news source, Berkeleyside (where I used to work) and followed the outpouring of tweets on my favorite Twitter hashtag and the #BerkeleyBalconyCollapse thread.

As the producer of Quirkeley’s video series, #Berkeley, I’m glued to Berkeley feeds on social media, scouting them for inspiration. For this Berkeley resident (who doesn’t have cable) it’s a seductive, unpredictable mosaic of local identities and places to be – or avoid. The most Instagrammed pictures of the city typically are of the Campanile, CREAM Ice cream, sunsets and squirrels. On weekends The Rare Barrel brewery and concerts at the Greek take over. Just last week the city trended when Goats Gone Wilda Berkeley Lab video of hundreds of goats crossing the road, went viral.

It’s not all peace pipes and Smoke’s Poutinerie. Berkeley’s vociferous and controversial character is world renowned, yet I’ve never seen the city impacted by a tragedy of this magnitude.

#Berkeley on social media was frenetic, simultaneously mourning “The Berkeley Six”, celebrating The Warriors championship and crucifying the New York Times for its appalling 2nd day coverage of the tragedy which appeared to blame the victims.

One of the week’s most shared images on #Berkeley Instagram was of Berkeley spelled out inside of a heart shape. Sara Prender appears to be the first to have posted the image Tuesday.

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 7.44.00 PM
Screenshots from #Berkeley Wednesday June 17, 2015

By Thursday the time had come for me to put away the social media filter and pay my respects to Olivia Burke, Eoghen Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller, Eimear Walsh and Ashley Donohoe. Library Gardens is two blocks from my office.

It was quiet when I arrived. A couple of news trucks were parked across the street. I purchased a generic, plastic-wrapped Wallgreens bouquet and anchored it among the growing wave of blooms, messages and flickering candles, disappointed that I didn’t bring farmer’s market flowers. I bowed my head and closed my eyes. I’ll never comprehend this loss, what the families and friends are going through or how this could happen in my town. Berkeley’s new bond with Ireland is profound. Eternal.

I heard a passing child complain to his mother that the sidewalk was blocked. Gently she said, “Listen, you need to have respect. This is a sacred space, okay? Sacred.”

I opened my eyes relieved to see more people arriving with flowers from Walgreens. The Irish flag waved in the breeze. I returned to my office and the virtual sacred space of #Berkeley.

Click here to make a donation to the Irish J1 Berkeley Tragedy Fund. 

Click here for the City of Berkeley’s 2020 Kittredge Public Records Page























View this post on Instagram

As many of you may have heard, an unspeakably tragic accident occurred here in the city of Berkeley. In the early morning hours during a birthday party, a fourth floor apartment balcony collapsed killing six people and critically injuring seven others. The victims had recently arrived from Ireland to spend a fun summer working in the Bay Area, and they were no older than 22. They were just kids. When I was their age I had just finished my own study abroad program in Europe. The apartment complex where this occurred is just two blocks away from my apartment – I've heard the news helicopters flying overhead since 5AM yesterday – and this evening I went to lay some flowers to show my support for the victims and their heartbroken loved ones. I was touched by the beautiful makeshift memorial that had sprung up, but I was not prepared for the overwhelming sadness I felt and could not help but cry. My heart aches for them and for the people who love them. I don't know if it'll be seen, but to the loved ones of the victims and to the country of Ireland I send my deepest condolences. I know there is nothing that could fix your broken heart, but please know you're not alone and that the entire city of Berkeley is keeping you close to our hearts. We're here for you in any way we can be. More than anything, I'm just so, so sorry. I hope one day the pain and sorrow you feel gets better. ❤️🇮🇪

A post shared by Laura Jean (@laurabellejean) on




View this post on Instagram

To our irish in #Berkeley, we are praying for you.

A post shared by Agapé Ireland (@agapeireland) on



















Siciliana Trevino is Quirkeley’s Executive Producer and the Director of New Mo’ Cut: David Peoples’ lost film of Moe’s Books premiering at the Elmwood Theater August 27th, 2015.