20 years after deadly bonfire, Aggies honor memory of 12 lives lost


COLLEGE STATION, Texas (Nexstar) — At 2:42 a.m. on the campus of Texas A&M University, senior Jeremy Solis stood with fellow students and alumni to recognize a somber anniversary.

Monday marks 20 years since an annual campus tradition called Bonfire turned deadly, when portions of the burning structure fell, killing 12 and hurting more than two dozen others.

Solis was just a year old on that deadly day.

Yet, he felt compelled to bring 12 roses to lay at the Bonfire Memorial on campusone for each of the 11 students and one alumnus who died on Nov. 18, 1999.

“It really symbolizes the Aggie family and the spirit,” Solis said. “We are really proud of something bigger than ourselves and being a part of it just means a lot to me.”

Some students are still involved with an off-campus bonfire.

“A lot of my friends are part of Bonfire, so I have been out to the stack site a few times, and help them put up logs and whatnot,” Solis added.

In the years since the 1999 accident, the University’s Traditions Council has worked to ensure the memory of the lives lost is not forgotten.

“Regardless of the year, we try and host a ceremony the same — it’s important that we remind the families that we’re always out there — doesn’t matter the year, it doesn’t matter if it’s a big milestone year like 10 or 20, we’re just out there regardless,” said Bonfire Remembrance and Service Committee chair Brooke Wilson, a Texas A&M senior.

“It’s really important for us to make sure we can connect with those families and remind them that even that it’s 20 years later… we still care about the Aggies that we lost, their loved ones are still super important to our university and kind of the tradition,” Wilson explained. “We don’t want that to ever go away.”

The committee coordinates an annual ceremony and a display inside the Memorial Student Center.

Bonfire Memorial display inside the Memorial Student Center at Texas A&M University. (Steffi Lee/Nexstar Media Group)

“Through that, we can kind of teach students about the history of bonfire, the tragedy of collapse and then how the Aggie family rebuilt after that,’ Wilson said.

Texas Congressman Will Hurd, R-Helotes, was student body president at Texas A&M the year of the collapse. He woke up to a phone call in the middle of the night with the news.

“I immediately threw on a sweater and ran to the scene, where I saw firsthand the terrible aftermath of the Bonfire collapse, ” he wrote in an editorial published Monday. “When I got there, I joined my fellow Aggies in trying our best to help organize rescue efforts, but the entire Aggie family lost 12 lives that day that we’ll never get back.”

“I often think about what those 12 Aggies would be doing if that fateful night had turned out differently. If they were on Earth and had the opportunities we all have had, what would they be doing? I must believe their deaths were not in vain,” Hurd wrote.

Two decades later, Solis said seeing people continue to care about what happened has inspired him.

“They are still making an effort to come, like seeing all the flowers that are being left behind means a lot,” Solis said.

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