A Heroic Event in History That Changed Lives

CULTURE | September 22, 2019

Jessica McClure Being Rescued from the Well (Bettmann Collection, Getty Image #515461414)

(Original Caption) Scott Shaw of the Odessa (Texas) American won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography for this photo, taken October 16, 1987, of 18-month-old Jessica McClure being rescued from an abandoned well in Midland, Texas. 

Most people remember the Jessica McClure story. It was about 32 years ago when one of those captivating stories happened that have people all over the country glued to their television sets for hours. Everybody was on edge waiting to see if or when they would be able to get that little baby out of that hole.

The Incident

It was just a normal average day that day in Midland, Texas on October 14, 1987, when baby Jessica and her mom were having a visit with her aunt. Baby Jessica was an 18-month-old baby who, like all babies, was curious about the world around her and was playing in the back yard. Her mother stepped inside for just a moment to take a phone call. That was all the time it took for that day to turn into a nightmare for not only baby Jessica but for her parents, the rescue workers, and even those tuning in and watching as events began to unfold.  

The Well. Source: (hermoments.com)

When Reba (Jessica’s mother) went back out to the yard, she could not find her baby anywhere at first. Then when she finally located her, she was shocked and horrified because Jessica had fallen down a well in the back yard. This well was not the type of wells that are used for drawing water up out of that are normally wide. It was actually a well casing that was only 8 inches wide and 22 feet deep. Still, the first rescue workers that arrived on the scene thought it would be a fairly easy task to get her out.  

A Team Effort. Source: (pinterest.com)

The Rescue

Hours passed when the Fire and Police departments came up with the idea of drilling a shaft parallel to the well and a tunnel that took a right angle over to it. With this in mind, they were sure it would enable them to get her out in just a very short time but that was not the case. Unfortunately, when the workers started attempting this, they soon realized their tools were not strong enough to drill through the hard rock around the well. What was supposed to take only a matter of minutes took six hours just to drill the shaft alone not to mention the tunnel. They then sent for a jackhammer but these are not really made for drilling sideways so it was an arduous task. Several people were called in to help, such as mining engineers, drilling experts, and contractors.

There must have been some angels in that well with baby Jessica because she was still able to sing the Winnie the Pooh song giving the rescue workers and family members hope by letting them know she was still alive. It took 45 hours to finally get the shaft and tunnel dug. Next, someone had to go down who was thin enough to physically bring her out of the well. They decided on a paramedic named Robert O’Donnell because of his thin and agile size.

Like President Ronald Reagan said, “Everybody in America became godparents as they anxiously waited and watched the story.” When O’Donnell pulled her out of that well, the whole country cheered. It had been a long 58 hours for all involved.  

The Movie. Source: (youtube.com)

The Movie

This was truly a memorable event that changed a number of lives. Two years later an ABC movie was made based on this event called “Everybody’s Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McLure.” The only person who really does not remember the event was Baby Jessica herself. Because she was so young at the time, she does not remember being in that well. That in itself is truly a blessing because, if she did remember, she would probably have had to undergo counseling and therapy in the years afterward.  

F 365740 31: The funeral of Robert O''Donnell who brought Jessica McClure out of well on October 16, 1987. He killed himself on 23 April, 1995. Source: (Photo by Barbara Laing / Liaison Agency – Getty Image #1592987)

The Irony

Jessica may not have remembered the event, but someone else remembered it all too well. Her rescuer, Robert O’Donnell, seven years later ended his life through suicide. Such a tragedy! For someone to heroically save a life and then turn around and take his own life – why? Apparently, he suffered from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

He himself endured trauma while down in the well as he had to deal with claustrophobia among other things. He talked about how it was like being in a grave.

Then the aftereffect of sudden fame that sometimes happens to heroes in such events was the icing on the cake. It dramatically changed his life. For a while, it gave his life new meaning with open doors of opportunity, but when things settled back down, as it often does, and people went back to life, as usual, he was forgotten about and his life went downhill.

According to family and friends, Robert O’Donnell was never the same afterwards.

When the Oklahoma City bombings happened, he was stirred up by it. It brought back bad feelings that sent him over the edge. His marriage was already in trouble, he was plagued with migraine headaches, and abusing prescription drugs. At the age of 37 and four days after the bombings, he took a shotgun and shot himself in the head, leaving behind his two boys who were 10 and 14.  

Jessica. Source: (lifedaily.com)

More Irony

Robert O’Donnell was not the only one affected by the media madness. All the hype and the attention took its toll on Jessica’s parents which caused them to divorce a few years later. Jessica herself was saved that day although she did have to undergo 15 surgeries after that, including having her toe amputated, and was left with a scar on her forehead.

She lost out on the majority of the trust fund that was set up for her to receive at the age of 25. Instead of receiving $1.2 million, she only received $800,000 due to the stock market crash of 2008. Life can be really ironic.

On a positive note, she is happily married with two beautiful children and considers family to be more important to her than money anyway.  

Tags: Jessica McClure

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