COLLEGE STATION, Texas — It is a day of remembrance on the Texas A&M University Campus. People make their way around the Bonfire Memorial to pay their respects to those lives lost 20 years ago. As people trickle in during the day, it was a different sight as hundreds of people gathered Monday morning.
“Its what keeps the spirit alive at Texas A&M,” said Michael Osborn, the public relations director for the Texas A&M Traditions Council.
Twelve Aggies were killed and 27 were hurt after Aggie Bonfire collapsed on November 18, 1999. Bonfire had been burning for more than 100 years and had only had one previous death. It happened after a student working on stack was hit by a car.
“Not many people had seen Michael that day and we were pretty sure he was working on stack,” said Jerry Ebanks, the father of the late Michael Ebanks.
Ebanks remembers the tragic day he lost his son.
“We didn’t have any confirmation that he was one of those who died until about two o’clock in the afternoon,” Ebanks said.
A day full of panic that nobody saw coming.
It was 20 years ago Monday the deadly collapse happened.
According to a report from the Department of Homeland Security, 58 people were working on the 40-foot stack that night. There are other reports that claim stack was as high as 59-feet.
The collapse of the 5,000-log Bonfire killed 11 Aggies at stack and sent more than two dozen people to the hospital. One of those hurt, died at the hospital, bringing the death toll to twelve.
At 2:43 a.m., College Station’s Emergency Communications Center got a call that Bonfire collapsed and dozens of people were trapped under the logs.
“They were laying a log and they were tying it up and said he heard a rope snap and completely fell off and people were all over it," said a bystander the night Bonfire collapsed.
First responders arrived at the collapse within minutes of the call. But trying to remove people who were trapped was difficult with the weight and placement of the logs.
The Department of Homeland Security report states there were three phases of the event; taking those who were hurt to the hospital, freeing people who were alive but trapped beneath the stack and removing those that died and taking apart what was left of Bonfire.
An independent commission of inquiry was appointed to determine what went wrong and why Bonfire fell. The commission found the collapse was because of a number of both physical and organizational factors.
As Ebanks and others who lost loved ones remember that day two decades ago, the university and Aggies everywhere are doing the same. Many of the students at A&M were not even born yet when Bonfire fell. That's not stopping them from remembering their fellow Aggies.
“Although I never knew these individuals, I can still honor and respect them," said Kyle Muilman, the outreach and education committee chair of Texas A&M Traditions Council.
On Nov. 16,2019, at midnight, Texas A&M hosted its Midnight Yell practice, as it always does every night before home games at Kyle Field. However, yell leaders and Aggies that came for the event honored the fallen with a moment of silence.
On Saturday's game against South Carolina, the university and fans again paid tribute to those who lost their lives, sporting shirts and apparel that paid tribute to the lives lost in 1999.
Early Monday morning at 2:42 a.m., as it does every year, Texas A&M held it’s Bonfire Remembrance Ceremony to pay respects.
“Even 20 years later, even for a lot of students who weren’t even born for when Bonfire Collapsed, this still matters to them, this still matters to the Aggie community," Osborn said. "It is still worth coming out in the cold in the morning and honoring those Aggies and honoring that legacy.”
Aggies that come to these events said it is part of the tradition.
“Just a lot of love," said one student.
“Knowing that people had things to do, they had work in the morning that they still come out and take time to pay their respects," said another student.
Aggies said it is what embodies the spirit of Aggieland.
“It’s a big family," said Evan Duray, a sophomore at A&M. "It's very humbling to see that these people might have busy weeks ahead of them or just a long day, they’re out here supporting other Ags.”
It truly shows that distance and time may separate Aggies only in a physical sense and that the Spirit of Aggieland burns in their hearts for a lifetime and beyond.
- Lucas John Kimmel, freshman, Corpus Christi
- Bryan Allan McClain, freshman, San Antonio
- Christopher Lee Heard, freshman, Houston
- Michael Stephen Ebanks, freshman, Carrollton
- Jamie Lynn Hand, freshman, Henderson
- Miranda Denise Adams, sophomore, Santa Fe
- Timothy Doran Kerlee, Jr., sophomore, Bartlett, Tennessee
- Chad Anthony Powell, sophomore, Keller
- Jerry Don Self, sophomore, Arlington
- Nathan Scott West, sophomore, Bellaire
- Jeremy Richard Frampton, senior, Turlock, California
- Christopher David Breen, TAMU Class of '97, Austin
If you would like to see a full playlist of our Bonfire series, head over to our YouTube channel.
UNBROKEN: Remembering Aggie Bonfire:
- Unbroken circle: Aggies gather at Bonfire Memorial to honor the 12 lost in '99 collapse
- Aggies honor those lost at '99 Bonfire site, set to honor S.C. QB and his family Saturday
- Texas A&M to hold remembrance ceremony for 20th anniversary of Bonfire collapse
- BONFIRE: Stack may have changed, but Aggie tradition carries on
- BONFIRE: A look back at more than a century of the Aggie tradition
- New Exhibit Highlights Aggieland Traditions