November 18, 1999
Texas A&M University’s beloved “Bonfire” stands proudly. The work of many students coming together, differences aside, protrudes through the darkness and boldly displays itself against the skyline. Approximately 70 students work diligently through the night to ensure “stack” will be ready for its big day, which is quickly approaching. Students stand in awe atop a 60 foot uncompleted stack of logs, each log placed with precision and dedication. The mindset of A&M has always been “build it bigger, build it better”, and of course Bonfire was evidence of that mindset.
Each student on stack that night stood for something. They stood for the congregation of a diverse student body, convening to display unity. Bonfire was a successful effort to bring harmony amid students, to connect brother with brother (we are Aggies, you are my brother, not just another person on campus) for the purpose of cutting, stacking, tying, and essentially burning logs. Bonfire united student with former student. The ideal of Bonfire reached across majors, outfits, reg and non-reg. It was truly a sight to behold.
Bonfire, to these young men and women, was a lifestyle at 2:41 A.M. on November 18, 1999.
At 2:42, just one minute later, Bonfire forever changed. Stack fell. A huge crack followed by Stack twisting to the ground left 27 students injured and 12 dead. Chaos erupted, people were crying out, desperately looking for “buddies” and helping those in need. Massive logs tumbled like sticks seemingly swallowing their victims.
Unsung heroes were born that night. We will never know all the names of those who stepped up to save lives, who showed compassion when it would be easier to run. One young man, Tim Kerlee, despite his severe injuries, declined rescue and insisted his friends receive help before medical personnel attend to him. That young man saved people that night by pointing rescuers to those injured who could not be seen from the ground. He sacrificed himself so that others may live. He was one of the 12 who left us too soon.
I, honestly, did not know what stack stood for until it fell. I was a junior in high school. My husband, a sophomore at A&M at the time, happened to be tethered to stack that night, on a swing, slamming against logs when the collapse happened. A young man saw he was going into shock due to the circumstance and his injuries and gave him the shirt off of his back to keep him warm. So many touching stories came from that night, students leaving their Aggie Rings in honor of those we lost, since those perished would never receive the chance to have theirs, notes, flowers, memorials, many tears shed, so much love was poured onto A&M’s campus in the aftermath of that tragedy.
Friends, our family is a walking testimony of Romans 8:28. The magnitude that Caleb survived that event and others did not is by all means not lost on me. The Bonfire Collapse was the commencing event and then a catalyst that set forth a series of events which allowed me to meet my husband at a Baptist Student Ministry on campus at a small junior college in my hometown. Our marriage was a covenant of two very broken souls who were made complete through Christ and joined together for some motive which our Savior envisioned.
It is not lost on me that for some reason God determined Caleb’s work here on earth was not complete. It is not lost on me that our union has a specific purpose which God has called us to fill. It is not lost on me that in the middle of such tragedy the blooms of newness, recovery, grace, and mercy were made clearly evident. It is not lost on me that truly all things, ALL things, work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.
I know the only reason I have the privilege of kissing my husband and hugging my children tonight is the mercy exuded by a loving and generous God. I don’t deserve this. There is nothing I will ever do that will deem me “worthy” of such. That’s where his marvelous grace comes in, wrapping me in a garment of royalty when what I really deserve are scraps from a poor man’s table.
Friend, what valley lays before you? Is it too wide for you to cross? You were never meant to do this alone. He will carry you. He’s gone before you and knows exactly what you need and when you will need it and is longing to give it to you. All you have to do is ask.
I feel as if we crossed another milestone in our journey through the wake of the Bonfire collapse. We took our children to the site before the ceremony of the collapse and then at 2:42, which is when stack fell. Now students gather in the early hours of the morning to pay tribute to those we lost that day.
20 years. We have run a gamut of emotions this entire weekend. Grief accompanied by the sense of duty, to live life well, in order to honor God’s decision to keep Caleb here, and in order to honor those whose time on earth was complete on November 18, 1999.
Our hearts and hands are extended to those who mourn this day. Your loss is great. I pray that you have peace, and that the longing for your lost one is eased, even just slightly, by hope, the Blessed Hope we all have access to.
Today we stand in the gap and answer “Here” for our fallen in the role call for the absent:
Miranda Denise Adams ’02: “Here”
Christopher D. Breen ‘96: “Here”
Michael Stephen Ebanks ‘03: “Here”
Jeremy Richard Frampton ‘99: “Here”
Jamie Lynn Hand ’03: “Here”
Christopher Lee Heard ’03: “Here”
Timothy Doran Kerlee, Jr. ’03: “Here”
Lucan John Kimmel ’03: “Here”
Bryan A. McClain ’02: “Here”
Chad A. Powell ’03: “Here”
Jerry Don Self ’01: “Here”
Nathan Scott West ’02: “Here”
Though your light no longer shines on earth your legacy will never be forgotten.
Thank you to those who gathered at the Polo Fields in their honor. It was remarkable to see thousands of students, 20 years removed from the tragedy, work so diligently to pay tribute to individuals they had never met, and remember a tradition that stopped before most of them were alive.