Texas A&M remembers fatal '99 bonfire collapse

AP News
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Posted: Nov 18, 2009 7:54 AM

A somber candlelight vigil marked by both silence and song commemorated the 10th anniversary early Wednesday of a bonfire collapse that killed 12 people at Texas A&M University.

More than 3,000 people cupping candles that flickered in the cold morning air gathered at the collapse site on campus at 2:42 a.m. _ the exact time of the Nov. 18, 1999 accident that also injured 27 people.

Current and former students, victims' families and others filled the grassy hills where a concrete and metal circular memorial now stands. The 30-minute event was somber but also musical as long stretches of silence were mixed with the crowd singing "Amazing Grace" and school songs such as "The Spirit of Aggieland."

Freshman Andrea Cobb, 19, said it was important for her to take part even though she didn't know the victims. She was only 9 when the collapse happened, but said she still feels the loss as a member of the Aggie family.

"We don't know them. But it's important to remember them," she said.

Students and others were building the 59-foot tower of 5,000 logs as part of an annual football season tradition. The bonfire was held on the eve of the game against the school's archrival, the University of Texas, and attracted as many as 70,000 people.

The tradition ended after the accident.

The vigil came a few hours after about 4,000 people attended a ceremony Tuesday evening at the school's basketball arena.

Jerry Ebanks, whose 19-year-old son Michael died in the collapse, said Tuesday he was grateful that Aggies still remember those who were killed.

"We remember Michael. All our friends remember Michael. It's very heartwarming to know the entire Aggie community will do that also," Ebanks said of his son, who was from the Dallas area. "It helps us adjust to the loss."

The annual bonfire, which began in 1909, was the ultimate tradition for many people on Texas A&M's 5,200-acre campus in College Station, about 100 miles northwest of Houston.

A commission that investigated the collapse found that students had been cutting corners in construction for years and school officials had failed to adequately supervise them. No single person or group was blamed for the accident.

Many Aggies, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, would like the bonfire tradition to resume. But others question whether such traditions, tied to the school's military and rural roots, have a place at the school as it works to develop a national reputation as a university that values diversity, research and academic achievement.

An off-campus bonfire not affiliated with the school has been held each year since 2002.