1999 Texas A&M campus minister recalls emotional healing after bonfire collapse

Published: Nov. 10, 2019 at 9:06 PM CST
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On the 20 year anniversary of the 1999 bonfire stack collapse, the emotions and memories still live on.

Pastor Kyle Walker began working for Texas A&M as a campus minister just before the fall of 1999. He says as soon as his students came on campus, they wanted to immerse him in Aggie culture.

"They would say, ‘Kyle, we need to take you to a football game. You need to be on the student side. You need to stand with us. Here is how you do the yells,’” said Walker.

That training included an invitation to one of the biggest Aggie traditions.

"I was excited watching bonfire getting constructed. I would see different stages of the structure going up,” Walker said.

That excitement turned to tragedy on November 18th, 1999, when the bonfire stack collapsed.

Walker says he quickly found himself face-to-face with a campus in mourning.

"I remember passing by the blood bank, and there was just a line down the street," said Walker. "It becomes kind of a stretched out blur of time. What was probably 24 hours felt like a week.”

20 years later, and he can still feel the same despair and helplessness he did back then. After the collapse, his faith forced him into a position to help others.

It was at the campus memorial in Reed Arena that Walker says the first steps towards healing were taken.

"I remember my colleague Larry quoting from Ecclesiastes and the heaviness of that passage, ‘a time to live and a time to die.’ Every time I hear that passage, I still think of bonfire," said Walker.

Walker remembers that in the days following the collapse, his work was just beginning.

"The students would be going back to classes still dealing with this, so the importance of continuing to open up and talk as they felt to do so that was important. There were all kinds of levels of trauma, and 20 years later, we are all still dealing with it."

One thing that stood out to Walker the most was the sheer strength of the Aggie community.

"I’ve had rare occasions in my 22 years of ministry to see communities stick up for one another the way they did, and I am still tremendously proud of that,” said Walker.