Local Aggies reflect on 20th anniversary of bonfire tragedy

Former students return to Aggieland to visit memorial

SAN ANTONIO – It was a tragic accident that took the lives of 12 young Aggie students.

Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the bonfire as it was being constructed on the Texas A&M campus. Two decades later, the memories of that moment are still vivid for many students who were on campus at the time.

“The mood on campus was just, you could tell it was a tragedy,” said San Antonio native and former student Paul Jimenez, who was a senior at the time of the collapse.

The tragedy happened at approximately at 2:42 a.m. on Nov. 18, 1999. Most students were either asleep or studying. Some realized something was wrong when the sounds of sirens broke through the night. Others woke up to see the collapse of the structure on the closed circuit campus tv feed and then heard more sirens.

‘The 13th Man’ revisits 1999 Texas A&M bonfire collapse

“We knew that something was wrong just because, I mean, sirens were going and going and going and going,” Jimenez said.

They just didn’t know how bad things really were until word started spreading across campus.

“I didn’t realize that there were folks in there and that folks had died,” Jimenez said.

Freshman Brooke Haley, also from San Antonio, had gotten a call from a friend, then saw what was left of bonfire on TV.

She said she also didn’t know the extent of the accident until she went to her geology class and only four other students showed up. The professor ended the class early.

“The four of us, I remember we walked out of the classroom stood in front of the building and cried,” Haley said.

Haley returned to her dorm room, but soon after she headed to the sight, and like so many of her fellow Aggies, did what she could to help.

“They had tables and stuff set up. I was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and just anything we could do just to help all the people that were out there, move logs,” Haley said.

That was one thing that left a lasting impression on sophomore Wade Amen from San Antonio. There were so many people willing to help rescue fellow Aggies and assist in any way they could.

“See, the Aggie family gets to work helping out not only the people who had passed under the stack, but there were still people they were trying to get off or to get out of there, everybody was trying to do their best to get the logs pulled off,” Amen said.

Even members of the football team took turns stepping in to help out with the heavy lifting.

Even today, Aggies still communicate about the tragic event.

“It really reinforces the Aggie Family,” Amen said.

One of the other events at the time was the football game between the Aggies and Longhorns just days after the tragedy.

Both bands paid tribute, the Horns playing taps, the Aggie band walked off the field in their traditional block T, in silence. The Aggies won, all that also left an impression.

“Just all of that,” Amen said.

Top this day Haley has never seen any bonfire.

All three former students have returned to Aggieland and visited the memorial for the 12 Aggies who lost their lives.

“Really a beautiful memorial and it does, it hits you in the heart you know when you see these people who are just trying to be you know college kids,” said Amen.

About the Author: