Irish President Michael Higgins, Berkeley honor victims of balcony collapse with lasting tribute

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- One by one, hand by hand, the President of Ireland thanked the first responders who rushed to the collapse of a balcony in Berkeley that killed six students.

Irish President Michael Higgins wrapped-up a ceremony welcoming a permanent tribute to the six students who died in that tragedy back in June.

The trees were planted in the corner of the park in downtown Berkeley. They serve as a living tribute to the six young people who died.

The two flowering Arbutus trees symbolize the bond between Berkeley and Ireland and a lasting friendship that came about from a tragedy.

PHOTOS: Several killed in balcony collapse in Berkeley

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Higgins helped plant the trees at MLK Civic Center Park. It's just a couple blocks from an apartment where six students fell to their deaths back in June. Five were from Ireland. The balcony they were on collapsed.

At a reception at Hotel Shattuck, President Higgins personally thanked first responders.

"All of you shared this tragedy with us. And that is the reason we join today in solidarity and gratitude," Higgins said during the reception.

Ashley Donohoe from Rohnert Park and her cousin Olivia were two of the victims. The president met privately with the family.

"So moved that they whose hearts must have been broken sat alongside those who just so appreciated the solidarity and compassion at a time of such great grief," Higgins said.

The city of Berkeley is considering adopting new safety regulations for rental buildings. Councilmember Jesse Arreguin introduced the proposal. It calls for stricter codes and more safety checks.

"Certainly, if we required that the balconies be constructed with better materials and using better design that could have prevented this from happening," Areguin said,

The city council will vote on the item Nov. 17.

Click here for full coverage of the Berkeley balcony collapse.
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