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Monday, November 22, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 65

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After the horror, A&M starts to heal

Hope, community grow in wake of tragedy

By Reagan Graham
Daily Cougar Staff

COLLEGE STATION -- Thursday's bonfire memorial service brought out tears, pain and agony at a time when many Texas A&M University students were still searching for answers.

Thousands gathered in Reed Arena even as their classmates and friends were still trapped beneath the pile of logs that had been the Aggie bonfire stack. Others huddled in area hospitals, waiting for good news that might never come.


Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar


Bystanders watch work crews lift logs from the wreckage of the Texas A&M University bonfire stack on Thursday. The 40-foot-high stack collapsed early Thursday morning, killing 12 and injuring several other students.

The 40-foot-high bonfire stack, which was being prepared for Friday's A&M-University of Texas football game festivities, collapsed early Thursday morning. As many as 70 students were working on the stack at the time; 12 of them died and several remained hospitalized throughout the weekend.

The memorial service Thursday was the first organized step towards healing for the campus community.

J. Malon Southerland, A&M's vice president for student affairs, said the unusually short time line Thursday -- the memorial was held at 7 p.m., even before all the students at the bonfire site had been accounted for -- was an indication of the A&M community's strength.

Southerland said he was brought to tears looking over the campus from his eighth-floor office Thursday afternoon. "I completely lost it, again, because you couldn't see any bricks or any pavement because it was completely covered with students that were sitting and holding each other's hands and having a prayer," he said.

Southerland thanked everyone who supported the students and faculty throughout the tragedy. The extended hands of compassion and love were exemplary of the spirit defined in the Aggie community, he said -- a community bound by tradition.

Lt. Gov. Rick Perry agreed. Perry had ordered state flags to fly at half-mast and formally offered a flag from the Capitol in Austin.

"Long after its colors are faded, we will remember those wonderful young Texas A&M students," Perry said. "We will remember them as long as there is a Texas A&M and the Aggie spirit is alive -- and that, my friends, is forever."

Following the memorial service, students gathered around the bonfire site, where the search for victims continued. Some prayed or hugged loved ones, but most just stood outside the line of yellow tape separating them from the crews slowly sorting through the rubble.

Others drove around the edge of the crowd, offering food, water and consolation to those intent on staying.

The Rev. Larry Krueger of the A&M Campus Ministers Association said the scene showed students were already finding ways to rebuild.

"I saw (students) gathered in small groups sitting on the ground praying," Krueger said. "I saw them ready at the police tape to go and help if asked.

"(At the hospital), I was very touched by students that had been treated and released with broken noses and banged-up bones sitting in that waiting room with their friends trying to hear about the others," he said.

Students said the atmosphere around campus in the hours after the collapse was one of astonishment. "At first, I thought this was a bad dream," sophomore industrial distribution major Joanie Goodson said.

But Goodson said even amid the tragedy, there was a spirit of hope. "I was really amazed at how many of us came together and supported one another," she said. "It was really amazing to see all the prayer that went on, and all the hugs and support."

A&M Student Body President William B. Hurd said this is a time to prove that A&M spirit will survive.

"We (can) show the state, and show the country, that at a time of crisis we're able to come together as one family, even though we all come from different backgrounds," he said.

"In light of this tragedy, we're able to focus on the way these people lived and celebrate their lives rather than (mourn) their deaths," Hurd said.
 

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