Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

KBRT’s offer to Irish students’ families sparks influx of donations

A Newry father who set up a repatriation fund offering financial assistance to bereaved families to bring their loved ones’ bodies home from abroad, has revealed that the charity’s recent offer to assist the families of the Berkeley balcony collapse victims has sparked a huge influx of donations to the local repatriation fund.

Collie and Eithne Bell set up the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust (KBRT) two years ago after their son Kevin was tragically killed in a hit and run accident in New York.  In the aftermath of his death friends and family rallied round to raise funds to repatriate his body. Within days, more than £40,000 was raised and as donations continued to pour in, the fund grew and it was from these fundraising efforts that the KBRT was born.  Since its inception, the Trust has financially assisted more than 70 other bereaved families in bringing their loved ones home.

As the country reeled from the horror of the tragic balcony collapse in Berekely, California last Tuesday, which claimed the lives of five Irish students and an Irish American, KBRT stepped up to offer assistance to the grief stricken families in repatriating their children’s remains back to Ireland. Speaking to RTE Liveline on the second anniversary of Kevin’s death, Mr Bell said he had contacted the Republic’s Department of Foreign Affairs to “tell the families that the funds are there to bring their children home”and added that he and his wife “know exactly what these parents are going through”.

The stricken students were among people celebrating a 21st birthday party at an apartment building in Berkeley, California, when the fourth-floor balcony they were standing on gave way sending it crashing onto the balcony below. Victims were hurled 40 feet onto the pavement below. Four of the students died at the scene and another two died in hospital.  Seven other party-goers were seriously injured, with two of those still in a critical condition while some of the others are believed to have “life-changing” injuries.

The heartbreaking tragedy sent shockwaves throughout Ireland and as people struggled to come to terms with the loss of so many young lives a “gofundme” page was set up raising more than £40,000 by Thursday afternoon. $100,000 was also donated by the American Ireland Fund to  groups providing assistance to those affected by the Berkeley tragedy.

Speaking to Radio Ulster on Friday morning Collie Bell said that, although The Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust was not required to repatriate the five young people from Berkeley, the huge influx of donations which had been received by the Trust in the wake of the tragedy would be used to continue the charity’s vital work in repatriating the remains of loved ones who have died abroad.

The bodies of four of the Irish students, Lorcan Miller, Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan and Niccolai Schuster, were repatriated on an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin on Saturday night.

A joint funeral service took place in the US for cousins dual Irish-US citizen Ashley Donohoe and Olivia Burke before Ms Burke’s remains were flown home to Ireland on Sunday evening.