This week marked the 10 year anniversary of the Texas A and M Bonfire tragedy. The bonfire was an Aggie tradition since 1909, and was a symbol of the burning desire of Texas A and M to beat the University of Texas longhorns. On November 18th, 1999, at 2:42am the stack of logs collapsed killing eleven students and one Alumnus, and seriously injuring 27 others. The tragedy affected the Texas A and M Community and the entire country, and as it turns out, had a large impact on the Scouting Community.
A Northern Tier Alumnus, and friend, had pointed me in the direction Christopher Breen, one of the twelve killed in the collapse, thinking it would be a good story to share on Scouting News. However, as I did some research I discovered at least five killed in the tragedy were Eagle Scouts. Here are their stories:
The Texas A and M Alumnus that was killed, Christopher David Breen had a strong connection to Northern Tier. Chris was an Eagle Scout and was a Charlie Guide at Sommers Canoe Base during the summers of 1994 through 1997. Working at Northern Tier was a big part of who Chris was, and according to the notice that was sent out to the Northern Tier Alumni community, he was buried with his “Charlie Guide” canoe paddle. Chris’ legacy will forever live on through the Scout’s lives he touched while working as a Charlie Guide, and through a Northern Tier Seasonal Staff Scholarship in his honor.
Nathan Scott West from Bellaire, Texas was another Eagle Scout lost in the tragedy. West had graduated High School in 1998 with a promising future already in hand. He was a National Merit Scholar semi-finalist, had scored more than 1400 on the SAT, and competed on the Swim Team. John Harris, West’s Scoutmaster, recalled that for his Eagle Scout project, West refurbished the old St. Vincent’s Cemetery off Navigation, where Confederate Civil War hero Dick Dowling is buried. Once he became an Eagle Scout, West stayed in the Troop to help the younger Boy Scouts.
Lucas John Kimmel was an Eagle Scout, and was 19, a freshman at Texas A and M when the Bonfire collapsed in 1999. Lucas’ love for the outdoors personified him. It gave him the chance to be outdoors, and it gave him the chance to be with the animal life that he appreciated so much. This appreciation led him to A and M in hopes of someday becoming a veterinarian. “He loved animals. We lived out in the country. He found a baby bird in the field and we rescued it and got it growing up. Dogs, cats, rabbits. That’s why he wanted to be a veterinarian.”
Chad A. Powell, an Eagle Scout, a track athlete, a computer whiz, a musician, Chad always made time to serve other people. He also kept up his grades through all of that, graduating as valedictorian of his class at Keller High School in Keller, Texas. Described by friends as “A model of honor, true character, and loyalty. He honored his life with integrity, his family with love and devotion, his community with leadership, friendship, and service, his God with commitment and passion”.
The twelth man to die, Timothy Doran Kerlee, Jr. was an Eagle Scout from Germantown, Tennessee. When the stack collapsed his pelvis was crushed, his arm broken, and his internal organs badly damaged. Despite his own injuries he told rescuers to “Help my buddies first,” and proceeded to direct rescue workers to five others before allowing them to free him. He died later in the hospital when his life support was disconnected. Eagle Scout Tim Kerlee was posthumously granted Boy Scouts of America’s Medal of Merit, for his heroic actions.
Please take a moment to remember their lives and say a few words of support for their families and friends on this anniversary. You can read more about the Bonfire tragedy, the memorial, and its victims on the Online Texas A and M Bonfire Memorial.