Sixteen years ago, 12 students died and 27 were injured in a tragedy that continues to be felt across Texas A&M. The 1999 Aggie Bonfire Collapse may have ended campus Bonfire, but a family member of one of the students who died that morning continues the tradition as a member of Student Bonfire off-campus.
Megan English, agribusiness senior, is a cousin of Lucas John Kimmel, one of the 12 students killed in the 1999 Bonfire Collapse. English said her participation in Student Bonfire is a way to honor the legacy Kimmel left behind.
“I participate in Student Bonfire, because I think [Lucas] would be proud to see it carried on,” English said. “It meant a lot to him and it meant so much to the student body back then, and to him. I looked up to my brother and he looked up to Lucas, and we all decided to be in it.”
English said she tries to participate in Student Bonfire as much as she can. A night job this semester has restricted her time on-site, but English said she enjoys being around the unique atmosphere of Student Bonfire whenever she gets a chance.
“It’s so at peace, being out there,” English said. “Even though people are yelling and you have to make sure you’re being safe, everyone is off their phones and you’re just working really hard for one thing and everyone has the same goal and they’re pretty selfless. No one is building this to say, ‘Oh I did that, those logs are mine.’ It’s such a group effort.”
English said Bonfire Remembrance emphasizes the bond of the Aggie family despite the 16 years that separate the Collapse from present day.
“I remember how people came to [Kimmel’s] funeral and when they put the memorial up,” English said. “It was amazing to see the respect they had for him and the other students, and it is amazing to see today how the school still honors them.”
Kimmel, Class of 2003, studied biomedical sciences and was a member of the Corps of Cadets Company D-2. He loved the outdoors, was an Eagle Scout and wanted to be a veterinarian.
English said Kimmel’s love for Texas A&M is the reason she and her brother came to the university. Her first memory of A&M was the Bonfire Memorial dedication ceremony in 2004. While English said she did not understand at the time why the crowds were gathered or the family tragedy that had unfolded on the same ground several years before, the event left a mark on her that she grew to appreciate as the years passed.
“All these people were there … and for the most part, all these people were just there because of the Aggie family,” English said. “And seeing that, I didn’t really get it then but as I got older and learned more about this school, all these people, all this love that everyone at this university shares, I decided this is where I’m going. This is my family.”
The passion Kimmel had for Texas A&M was clear, said Sydney Balusek, communication senior and another cousin of Kimmel.
“I was young but I still remember it clearly, he was a big part of the family,” Balusek said. “Lucas loved this place, and he was definitely an inspiration for coming here, and it’s bitter sweet now that I am close to graduating.”
As for Bonfire Remembrance, Balusek said seeing how the Aggie family gathers on Nov. 18 reminds the family of the love all Aggies have for each other and the values they represent.
“It’s always touching, every year at Remembrance,” Balusek said. “All the Aggies we see there are respectful, and the families can see that.”
English said she feels a connection to the campus Bonfire Memorial, and often visits to spend time at Lucas Kimmel’s portal.
“When I go there [to the memorial], I feel complete peace,” English said. “A lot of times I’ll take my Aggie Ring off and put it in his portal so he can get the chance to have one because he was a freshman when he died.”