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Campus Mourns Bonfire Victims

November 22, 1999

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ The usual pre-Thanksgiving frenzy of school spirit and football mania that sweeps the University of Texas was put aside Monday as the mourning continued for the 12 people killed in the bonfire collapse at archrival Texas A&M.

Across Texas, thousands of mourners crowded into one church after another, many wearing the maroon-and-white colors of the Aggies, to bid farewell to five of those who died.

At UT, a candelight vigil Monday night was to take the place of the annual ``hex rally,″ when Longhorns traditionally put a curse on the Aggies’ football team before the annual day-after-Thanksgiving game.

Traditions were put on hold at Texas A&M, too. Officials postponed Tuesday’s annual Elephant Walk _ when seniors turn over school-spirit leadership duties to juniors in a slow, symbolic walk around campus _ to Nov. 30.

In the Fort Worth suburb of Watauga, about 2,200 people gathered at Harvest Baptist Church to mourn Chad Anthony Powell, 19, a high school valedictorian and Eagle Scout whose casket was draped with a Texas A&M flag.

``I personally believe that God was looking for a leader, and after searching far and wide, he found Chad,″ said Cody Austin, among 100 uniformed Boy Scouts.

In Carrollton, outside Dallas, more than 1,100 people overflowed St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church to mourn 19-year-old Michael Stephen Ebanks, whose desire to attend the university was magnified after his older brother, a Texas A&M graduate, died in a traffic accident in 1994.

``I think he really got the Aggie infection from his brother, Keith,″ said Jim Ebanks, an uncle. A&M ``was a source of intense pride for Michael.″

Other funerals were held Monday in Arlington and San Antonio, and a memorial service was held in Pasadena, a suburb of Houston.

More than 2,000 people crowded into the First Baptist Church in Arlington to mourn A&M junior Jerry Don Self. He was buried in his uniform from the school’s Corps of Cadet in a casket lined with fabric bearing the Texas A&M logo. Dozens of fellow uniformed cadets attended.

Officials have said about 70 people were building the 40-foot pyramid of logs when the pile gave way early Thursday. The bonfire is a Thanksgiving week tradition on the A&M campus in College Station and the highlight of preparations for the annual game against Texas.

Four students remained hospitalized Monday, two in critical condition, one in serious condition and one in fair condition.

This year’s bonfire has been canceled, and university leaders will decide the future of the tradition at a later time. A commission is to be appointed to investigate the accident and make recommendations.

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