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Texas rivals unite to mourn bonfire victims

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AUSTIN, Texas -- For 58 years, University of Texas students have signed a "hex card" in hopes of sending nasty messages to archrival Texas A&M in the days before the schools' annual football matchup.

But this year, Texas students painted over those messages to write condolences in memory of the 12 A&M students killed last week while building a bonfire structure.The plywood card was on display Monday night during a candlelight service outside of the University of Texas' darkened 307-foot tower, where thousands of Longhorns and Aggies came together to grieve.

The mourning took the place of the annual "hex rally," where Longhorns fans usually light candles to place a good-natured curse on Aggies.

"My heart goes out to those of you in Aggieland," read one message. "For our friendship runs deeper than our rivalry."

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 Texas A&M campus in College Station -- the highlight of preparations for the regular season finale against Texas.

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

Putting aside deep, long-held antagonisms, 40 busloads of Aggies made the 105-mile trip to Austin for the Monday rally.

"Tonight we stand unified. Unified in our grief. Unified in our love of tradition. Unified in our commitment to restore light to a darkened Texas," Texas student body representative Milan Newby told the crowd.

At the rally, Newby and Texas A&M student body president Will Hurd each lit a candle from the same torch before lighting the candles of those in the crowd as the tower bell struck 12 times -- once for each of the 12 who died.

"We have seen the most fearsome rivals become the best of friends," Hurd said. "The relationship between Texas A&M and the University of Texas is forever changed."

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

Earlier Monday, thousands of mourners crowded into a handful of churches across the state to bid farewell to five of those who died.