Mourn Fallen Aggies
WHITMARSCH Eagle Staff Writer
Tens of thousands of silent mourners lighted candles Thursday night
near the Bonfire site in honor of the 12 Aggies who died after the
40-foot stack of logs crumbled.
The vigil, and Yell Practice immediately after, replaced what
would have been the school's 90th Bonfire, which represents the
students' burning desire to defeat the University of Texas.
"There's still fire here tonight ... there's still a joining of
spirit," said former student Todd Helms. "That's the way the people
who died would have wanted it to be."
University officials estimated at least 40,000 people circled
the police-tape perimeter where Bonfire stood before its collapse
last week. Former president George Bush and his wife, Barbara, as
well as Texas Gov. George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, were among
those who attended the vigil.
As the sun set, people began lighting their candles and the crowd
grew silent. Pinpoints of flickering light blanketed the site, illuminating
the area where many of the estimated 5,000 logs that made up the
stack before its collapse still remained.
"This is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," said Bob Wiatt,
director of the University Police Department. "There's solemnity,
grief and respect on the faces of everyone out here, and I've never
heard anything so quiet. You can't even hear breathing."
Many gathered at the site long before the vigil was scheduled
to begin, several reading prayer cards and notes left by mourners
before them. Others wept or dropped to their knees in prayer.
A&M senior Mike Maginness, a member of the Corps of Cadets,
said the vigil was necessary to help the student body begin what
he predicted will be a difficult healing process.
"Everyone knows what happened, but I don't think it's really set
in," he said. "This might help some, but it will never really be
forgotten. We all feel a tremendous sense of loss, whether we knew
the people who died or not."
Gary Boening, an Edna, Texas, resident whose two children attended
Texas A&M, held back tears during the vigil.
"I've always known the Aggie spirit was like this," he said. "Now,
maybe the rest of the world will know."
The crowd remained silent for nearly two hours, when people began
to leave to attend Yell Practice at Kyle Field. Instead of blowing
the candles out, many people placed them near the perimeter and
let them burn out.
"This is a really hard thing to do," said sophomore Becky Miller.
"It makes everything so real, but everyone's going to leave with
a renewed sense of unity."
During Yell Practice, in contrast to the vigil, students applauded
and whooped as the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band played, Aggie football
coach R.C. Slocum spoke and the Yell Leaders led the crowd in traditional
"Everyone's been talking about a modified Yell Practice, but the
only thing modified is the location," said Yell Leader Jeff Bailey.
"When I think of the Aggie Bonfire, I know what makes it special
is the Aggies standing around it.
"We've got to remember what Bonfire stood for," he said. "So,
as we stand here tonight, I hope we yell louder, sing louder and
hold each other stronger than we ever have before."
At the conclusion of the practice, the lights dimmed and a cannon
fired 12 times in honor of each of the 12 victims. The football
players later came onto the field for the playing of the Aggie War
Hymn and then hugged several people on the sidelines who were injured
when Bonfire collapsed.
The vigil and Yell Practice were a solemn end to what had been
an emotional week on the A&M campus. Before sunrise last Thursday,
the pyramid of logs that were to be lighted on the eve of the school's
match-up with the Longhorns came roaring down.
Hundreds of students attended an impromptu memorial service Thursday
at Rudder Fountain on the A&M campus. Later, mourners packed
Reed Arena for an emotional service attended by Lt. Gov. Rick Perry
and former President George Bush.
During the service, Aggies linked arms and singed Amazing Grace.
Later, as the Bonfire stack was taken apart and preserved for
investigation, shrines grew from flowers, prayer cards and trinkets
left by mourners. Pictures of the 12 victims were hung off the flag
pole in front of the Administration Building, and flags across campus
and around the state flew at half-staff.
As the week continued, funerals for the 12 fallen Aggies took
place around the country. Thousands of mourners, many wearing ribbons
in A&M's maroon and white, gathered to bid them farewell.
Memorial services also were held at various locations across Bryan
and College Station for students who wanted to pay their respects
to the deceased. Counselors and clergy spread throughout the city,
providing counseling to the grief-stricken.
Meanwhile, the Longhorns canceled the traditional "Hex Rally"
they hold to wish evil spirits on their hated rivals and instead
had a service in memory of the 12 victims. Thousands of University
of Texas students attended the candlelight service.
During Yell Practice on Thursday, Bailey acknowledged the Longhorns'
"I want to say a special thanks to that school from Austin --
that team and every person at that school," he said, after which
the students applauded for several minutes.
The two schools will continue to honor the victims Friday at half-time
during the game between the Aggies and the Longhorns. The bell on
the Albritton Tower will sound 12 times -- once for each of the
12 students who died.
"This game could be the quietest one we've ever had, but I think
it will be the loudest," Maginness said. "I think, at this game,
the 12th Man will be at his best."