The six young people who fell to their deaths Tuesday when a balcony snapped off the fifth floor of Library Gardens in downtown Berkeley died of multiple blunt injuries, the Alameda County coroner’s office said Thursday.
Four of the youth died from “multiple blunt injuries,” one died of “blunt trauma to the head and brain,” and one died of “multiple blunt traumatic injuries,” according to a coroner’s spokeswoman. But the varied designations are just the way the different coroners described the injuries, she said.
Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.
The six students who died, and the seven who were seriously injured in the collapse, fell about 48 feet to the street below. Four were pronounced dead at the scene and two died later. They were Ashley Donohoe, 22, from Rohnert Park; and Olivia Burke, Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster and Lorcán Miller, all 21 years old and from Ireland.
The large number of casualties and the age of the victims deeply affected the firefighters and police officers who first responded to the scene, as well as the dispatchers who fielded the 911 calls, according to Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong.
“It was probably one of the worst multi-casualty events I can recall during my time in Berkeley,” the Berkeley fire chief said.
The first responders were shaken up by finding four bodies in the street and by the stress of having to treat, what, at the time, was nine seriously wounded young individuals.
Both the fire department and the police department did “diffusing” sessions to help personnel process their shock and grief, said Dong. The Fremont Fire Department sent a crisis management team to Berkeley that morning and held a session at around 1 p.m. “It’s a private session to allow people to say what’s on their minds, talk about their feelings in a closed session,” said Dong.
“We are all keeping an eye on each other,” said Dong. “We are allowing people to have space.”
The police department held its counseling session Wednesday night, according to Officer Jeff Shannon. The department follows the protocol for a “critical incident stress debrief.” The leader starts off with a simple question, asking officers what role they had in the incident, and works up to more thorny issues, asking what was the officer’s most difficult moment. Through the course of the evening, the group gets to talk about what happened.
Shannon would not say how many police officers were at the session, but said it was “well-attended.”
It is common for first responders to have difficulty after an incident like the balcony collapse, and everyone works through it in their own way, said Shannon.
“Some people have difficulty concentrating. Some people have difficulty sleeping. People have a wide variety of possible responses.”
Some first responders also sought counseling at Highland Hospital, according to an employee of the hospital who asked to be anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the press. He said the ER department was treating victims of the accident while some first responders were given trauma counseling.
Fire officials are still intimately involved in helping the families of the Irish students, both those killed and those injured, as well as some of other Irish students on the J-1 visa program. They are helping with logistics, such as coordination with the coroner’s office, transportation, and other needs.
“We’re there,” said Dong. “If they have a question, we’ll get it answered at once.”
People in Ireland have been comforted by the assistance of the police department and fire department. Berkeley Police Officer Byron White posted some thank-you letters on his Facebook page.
“It’s clear from what we have seen in the media that in their time of need they were surrounded by compassion,” wrote one family from Dublin.
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