The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Recalling The Battalion’s extensive coverage of the 1999 Bonfire tragedy

Members+of+the+Texas+A%26amp%3BM+Corps+of+Cadets+sit+and+wait+for+news+about+the+students+who+were+killed+or+injured+during+the+fall+of+the+bonfire+on+Tuesday%2C+Nov.+18%2C+1999+at+Texas+A%26amp%3BM+University+in+College+Station%2C+Texas.+%28The+Battalion%2F+Patric+Schneider%29
Photo by Pactric Schnider

Members of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets sit and wait for news about the students who were killed or injured during the fall of the bonfire on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 1999 at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. (The Battalion/ Patric Schneider)

When tragedy struck Aggieland on Nov. 18, 1999 at 2:42 a.m., The Battalion staff was called to tell a story that would be remembered by Aggies forever.
At the time Bonfire collapsed, that day’s Battalion had already been sent to print. As news of the tragedy broke, staff stopped the presses, and the newspaper that ultimately hit the stands on the morning of Nov. 18 contained stories about events that had taken place only hours before.
At the time of publication, four Aggies had been confirmed dead and 12 were hospitalized. The Battalion staff captured the somber night by taking photos of the fallen stack, students raised their pots to show they were ready to help and emergency personnel aiding the injured.
Even in that first paper, the impact that the collapse had on the student body was apparent. Thousands of students gathered at the scene, some sobbing or shouting, while others made phone calls to friends and family. A photo of students praying while lights flash in the background shows the Aggie Family standing together in a time of need.
By the time the Nov. 19, 1999 edition of The Battalion was published, 11 Aggies had died as a result of the collapse. The names of Jeremy Richard Frampton, Lucas John Kimmel, Bryan A. McClain, Nathan Scott West, Chad A. Powell, Miranda Adams, Michael Stephen Ebanks, Jamie Lynn Hand, Jerry Don Self, Christopher Lee Heard and Christopher D. Breen were released, along with a heartbreaking photo of students mourning in front of the collapsed stack. The front page read, “They will remain with us forever in Aggie Spirit.”
Inside the paper were stories of grief, unity and an update on rescue efforts. Many students had fielded calls of concerned family members, wanting to make sure their loved ones were safe. They coped by watching updates on a television set in the Memorial Student Center Flag Room, volunteering at the scene of the collapse and donating blood at various stations on campus. In a press conference, then-president Ray Bowen announced the cancellation of the 1999 Bonfire. A Battalion timeline of the accident, rescue efforts and reactions told the facts in a manner which made it clear just how much had occurred in such a short amount of time.
After a weekend of developing news, Timothy Doran Kerlee Jr.’s name was added to the list of those who died, making the final count of Aggies who lost their lives from the collapse 12. Each Aggie was profiled in The Battalion on Nov. 22, 1999, and their photos lined the front page. The edition highlighted ways fellow Aggies were remembering those who passed. Among the unique tributes were Aggie Rings left at the Bonfire site to honor those who died before receiving their own rings.
The 12 fallen Aggies were remembered at a sunset gathering on Nov. 25, the original date for the canceled Bonfire. In the meantime, certain Corps outfits chose to remove medals and cords from their uniforms in exchange for black ribbons. Services such as counseling and Bible studies occurred frequently, with Corps of Cadets chaplains working to help any student through the hardships they were facing.
The MSC’s official Bonfire T-shirts were revised to become memorial shirts with proceeds going to the families of the fallen Aggies. The Association of Former Students and the Texas A&M Foundation established funds to honor the 12 victims of the collapse. Donations were received from individuals all across the nation.
The remarks of Samuel Murdock, who was a business administration sophomore at the time, shed light on the way Aggies can come together in times of crisis. His quote was printed on the front page on Nov. 22.
“I’ve never felt so proud of my university as I do at this time,” Murdock said. “To see the unification of all Aggies, regardless of age, sex, religion or sexual orientation just makes my heart swell with pride and my faith in the world strengthened. The friendship that unites us is beyond death and time.”

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