The decade's most triggering comedy
Jessica McClure was born on March 26, 1986, in Midland, Texas. She may have lived an otherwise normal life were it not for the harrowing events that occurred in October 1987, which earned her international attention as “Baby Jessica.”
On October 14, 1987, at the age of just 18 months, Jessica was at her aunt’s home in Midland, where she ran a daycare center. Jessica and four other children were playing in the backyard while Jessica’s mother, Cissy, supervised, Biography reported. Cissy stepped inside briefly to answer a phone call and soon heard the children screaming. She rushed outside but couldn’t find Jessica.
She quickly discovered that Jessica had fallen into an 8-inch wide, 22-foot deep well on the property and was trapped deep below the surface.
The well wasn’t unknown to the family, as Cissy told reporters later that a heavy rock had been used to cover it up to prevent an accident. The question of how Jessica ended up in the well will forever remain a mystery.
Jessica would remain trapped in the well 22 feet below ground for the next 58 hours, as rescuers rushed to rescue her. As they worked, national media outlets such as CNN — at that time the country’s only 24-hour news network — picked up the local story, and soon media outlets around the world were tuned in to Baby Jessica’s rescue.
What initially seemed like a simple rescue turned into anything but, as the depth to which Jessica fell meant she was below some of Earth’s rock layers that were harder than granite.
To reach Jessica, rescue crews commissioned a machine typically used to install large telephone polls in the ground and used it to drill a 30-inch wide, 29-foot-deep hole parallel to the well where Jessica was trapped. When that was done, they began drilling through the hard rock to create a horizontal tunnel that stretched between the two wells and opened up just two feet below where Jessica had been trapped.
Since the whole process took more than two days, rescue workers provided Jessica with oxygen and tried their best to constantly communicate with Jessica, who reportedly moaned and wailed during the rescue. At times, however, she sang nursery rhymes.
“After listening to her for so long, I could tell her moods,” one detective who was present at the rescue told Biography. “At one point she was singing. At another point, when a jackhammer started up, she didn’t say any words but used kind of a huffy little voice. You could tell it was an angry voice. I would say 80 percent of the time she was either crying or making some kind of noise we could hear. When we weren’t calling words of encouragement, we’d tell her to sing for us. I’ll never forget her singing ‘Winnie the Pooh.'”
Rescue workers kept thinking that she would be freed and brought to the surface at any moment, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time, but the hard rock layer around the well kept presenting problems. Two days after she became stuck, workers broke through the well and inflated two industrial-type balloons in case she fell. Rescue workers used a mirror to see through a hole in the well and managed to see one of Jessica’s legs. Paramedics were sent down and were able to reach Jessica, but they could not free her due to a buildup of leaves and debris that had formed in the well over the years. While one leg was free, the other was pressed against her above her forehead in the tight space and remained stuck.
“We still don’t have enough room to get her out,” Police Chief Richard Czech told the media, according to the Times. “So we’re going to do some more digging.”
The delay caused more concerns. Jessica had been without food or water for two days, but Czech assured viewers that doctors had said she seemed fit. A more pressing concern, he said, was that doctors worried giving her food or water may cause additional problems if she had internal injuries and needed surgery upon rescue. Doctors also feared that Jessica could choke on the food or water and no one would be able to help her.
By the second day of her rescue, Jessica apparently became irritable, Sgt. Andy Glasscock told the media.
“I made her mad,” he said. “I’ve been telling her for the last 20 hours that we were coming down to get her out. I don’t think she believes me.”
By then, workers determined they needed to complete more drilling so that they could move better in the tunnel beneath Jessica. A drill that used intense water pressure to cut through the rock was sent from Houston to help speed up the digging.
A roofing contractor named Ron Short offered to help free Jessica without additional digging since he was born without a collarbone and could collapse his shoulders to fit into tight spaces. Rescuers accepted his offer, but his help wasn’t used.
On the evening of October 16, 1987, more than two days after Jessica fell into the well, rescuers called for complete silence, leading to speculation that Jessica would soon emerge from the well.
Medical equipment such as forceps and lubricating gel were brought to the site, and around 5:30 p.m., a board used to transport the disabled was lowered into the rescue shaft, the Times reported.
It was paramedic Robert O’Donnell who managed to squeeze into the tunnel and free Jessica before giving her to another paramedic who brought her out of the ground. That paramedic gave her to another paramedic who took the toddler to a waiting ambulance.
Doctors who treated Jessica immediately after she was rescued worried they would have to amputate one of her feet, since she had lost blood flow due to it being stuck above her head for 58 hours. To avoid this, they attempted to relieve the swelling by performing a surgery known as fasciotomy, which involves making small cuts to the membranes known as fascia, The Washington Post reported at the time. She was also treated in a hyperbaric chamber to speed tissue healing. In the end, Jessica only lost a toe, but her right foot had to be reconstructed because it had developed gangrene due to its position in the well, People reported.
She also has a scar on her forehead from where her head was pressed against the walls of the well while rescue workers drilled.
Baby Jessica’s rescue is reported as the second time the entire country watched day and night as a traumatic event occurred – the first being the Challenger explosion in 1986.
Thousands of people who didn’t know Jessica sent the McClure family cards, flowers, toys, and even money. The money, which totaled more than $1 million, was put into a trust for Jessica to inherit when she turned 25. She collected that money in 2011.
The photo of Jessica in the hands of paramedics won Scott Shaw of the Odessa American the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography, and her story was turned into a television movie in 1989 called “Everybody’s Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure.”
These days, Jessica lives a normal life. She married Danny Morales on January 28, 2006, and has two children, Simon and Sheyenne. She works as a special-education teacher’s aide at her local elementary school. Her husband is a foreman at a pipe supply company, People reported.
Jessica told the outlet that a lot of the $1.2 million trust fund set up for her after her ordeal was lost to the stock market dive of 2008. She used what remained to purchase the family’s modest home.
“I think it’s amazing that people would come together like that to donate money to a child that was not theirs,” she told People. “I appreciate everything they did.”