One year after the Bonfire collapse, the city of College Station dedicated a memorial at Brison Park for the 12 Texas A&M students killed in the early morning hours of Nov. 18, 1999.
City council members learned about the tragedy while attending a Texas Municipal League conference in Dallas, said Dennis Maloney, who was on the council at the time. He returned to city government in 2018 as the Place 6 representative.
As soon as the council members heard what had happened, Maloney said, they began talking about how the 12 were not just people, but Texas A&M students, and therefore “our kids in our town.”
“We just couldn’t believe that this tragedy struck us,” he said. “We had all experienced the Bonfire. ... For that to happen, that’s all we could think about was, ‘My God, this is just so horrific.’ It’s just so inconceivable.”
Acknowledging that they never could feel the pain the 12 families were facing, Maloney said the memorial at Brison Park is something that they could do to make sure people remember.
He said the council members realized that there were 12 lamps already established at Brison Park, located on Dexter Drive, a few blocks from George Bush Drive and the A&M campus.
“We thought, ‘My God, this is just a given that we need to do something,’ ” he said. They put stone markers near the base of each of the lamp post, each one honoring one of the students who died. The city also erected a marker explaining the “Brison Park Bonfire Memorial Lights.”
With all 12 names listed, the marker reads: “When the Aggie Bonfire collapsed on November 18, 1999, killing twelve Aggies and injuring scores more, the City of College Station emergency units were among the first on the scene. In the dreadful days that followed, the whole city grieved. To celebrate the lives of those twelve fallen Aggies and to recognize their undying Aggie spirit, the City of College Station dedicates the twelve streetlights in Brison Park to their memory.”
“These were our kids, and we never want to forget this,” Maloney said. “And the wonderful thing about Brison Park is that it is by deed impossible to put any kind of swing sets or play fields or anything on it. It must always remain in its natural state.”
He described it as a quiet park with trees that offers a spot for reflective activities, such as meditation, reading and walking.
“It just seemed like the most appropriate way to commemorate this tragedy,” he said.
Maloney, who lived near Brison Park for nearly 40 years, said people sometimes visit the park and leave flowers next to the markers.
Jay Socol, director of public communications for the city, said it was important for the council to create the “forever tribute” in what he calls one of the city’s most beautiful parks. City officials call it “the other Bonfire Memorial,” he said, so as not take to away from Texas A&M’s memorial on campus.
“The main Bonfire Memorial on campus is breathtaking, but the one in Brison Park is really wonderful in its own way,” Socol said. “It’s all in the midst of these big, beautiful oak trees, and it’s very open green space, and it’s a nice mixture of residents and students and people playing with their dogs. Sometimes you’ll see students in hammocks that they put into the trees to study. It’s just a very tranquil environment.”