When baby Jessica tumbled down a well in a relative’s backyard, a nation was gripped by her plight. Indeed, even the President of the United States spoke about the toddler’s traumatic experience, as police officers and firefighters worked around the clock to rescue her. And now, 30 years on, the all-grown-up Jessica has finally spoken out about the harrowing ordeal.
On 14 October, 1987, disaster struck the McClure family. Eighteen-month-old Jessica was playing in the backyard of her aunt’s house in Midland, Texas, when her mom popped inside to answer the phone. And seconds later, the toddler found herself falling down a nearby well.
The well that “Baby Jessica,” as she soon came to be known, tumbled down wasn’t exactly huge. In fact, it was a mere 8 inches wide, but extended 22 feet down. Retrieving her safely from the bottom of it, then, wouldn’t be an easy task.
And so, the rescue effort began – as too did the media circus. Indeed, McClure’s ordeal well and truly gripped the nation. For hours, people tuned in to CNN’s round-the-clock, on-site reporting of the rescue attempt.
A local station in Texas, KMID-TV, was bombarded with phone calls from people demanding updates on the rescue effort. From normal citizens to major news organizations, everyone and anyone wanted to know what was happening.
McClure, of course, was in grave danger. But the rescue workers, mainly comprised of Midland Police and Fire Department members, were reassured that she was alive after she started singing “Winnie the Pooh.”
The rescue effort, however, quickly became mired in complications. At first, the team had planned to drill a parallel shaft to the well, and then drill across to McClure. Unfortunately, they soon discovered that the rock was too thick for their tools. As a result, the drilling would take a lot longer than first anticipated.
Eventually, the rescue team managed to complete the tunnel. All that was left was to find someone small enough to make their way down it. Thankfully, a paramedic, Robert O’Donnell, stepped up – and slowly edged down into the secondary shaft.
And 58 hours after baby Jessica had first fallen down the well, O’Donnell managed to retrieve her safely. However, the paramedic’s story would not end quite so happily. Indeed, it actually culminated in tragedy eight years later. Tormented by PTSD following the rescue and the intense media scrutiny that ensued, he took his own life.
Back in 1987, baby Jessica’s rescue had created a national media frenzy. In fact, the incident even caused then-President Ronald Reagan to make a statement about her ordeal. “Everybody in America became godmothers and godfathers of Jessica while this was going on,” he said.
Indeed, the impact of baby Jessica’s story was felt far and wide. Scott Shaw, the photographer who took her picture as she emerged from the well, was awarded the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography. And a year later ABC even produced a movie about the incident, titled Everybody’s Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure.
Meanwhile, blues musician Charlie Musselwhite’s 2010 record The Well cites McClure as the inspiration for him giving up alcohol. And both The Simpsons and American Dad have parodied the event.
Baby Jessica hadn’t come through the ordeal unscathed, however. In fact, doctors were forced to amputate one of the 18-month-old toddler’s toes. Unfortunately, it had become infected with gangrene due to her blood circulation being inhibited while she lay in the well.
Aside from an appearance on The Today Show on the 20th anniversary of her fall, McClure’s life has mostly been spent under the radar. But in March 2017, 30 years after her ordeal, she gave a candid interview to People magazine.
McClure married her now husband, Daniel Morales, at the age of 19 in 2006. What’s more, the couple have two kids together, Simon and Sheyenne. And while McClure doesn’t remember falling down the well, people around her hometown still call her by the “Baby Jessica” moniker she was given as a toddler.
McClure and her family lead a relatively conventional existence. She’s currently working as a special-education teaching assistant, while her 43-year-old husband works for a pipe supply company. And, apart from the missing toe, there are no visual indicators of McClure’s near-death experience.
Back in the late 1980s, people from all over America came together to donate money to baby Jessica’s cause. The donations were then put into a trust fund totaling a whopping $1.2 million. Unfortunately, McClure said that the majority of the funds were lost after the 2008 stock market crash. However, she was able to buy their family home with what money remained.
However, McClure is still grateful for the generosity of those who donated. She told People magazine, “I think it’s amazing that people would come together like that to donate money to a child who was not theirs. I appreciate everything they did.”
Now, 30 years on, McClure’s own kids are old enough to realize what happened to their mom as a child. And she wants them to learn a sense of humility from her experiences. Above all, she hopes they will remember that “there are so many good people in this world.”
Understandably, McClure is very protective of her own kids now. As she told The Today Show in 2007 about her son Simon, “I kind of get a little excited every time he gets a bump or a bruise. I have learned that he’s going to get many, and there’s nothing I can really do about it. I’ve got to let him grow up.” And it’s remarkable to see baby Jessica now, all grown up herself.