The Heart-Stopping Rescue of Baby Jessica McClure

On the 14th of October, 1987, an 18-month old baby named Jessica McClure Morales fell into a well in her aunt’s backyard. The incident captivated the nation and even the world, with millions of people watching with bated breath as rescuers worked valiantly around the clock to try and rescue this innocent, defenseless young child. The rescue efforts lasted for more than two days in total, and the incident received significant media coverage all over the globe. It was a huge story that resulted in the enormous aftermath and even had an influence on popular culture, with songs and TV shows being inspired by the incident of the girl who came to be known around the world as “Baby Jessica.”

The Early Months of Baby Jessica’s Life

Jessica McClure Morales was born on March 26 of 1986 in the city of Midland, Texas, which was well known at the time as one of Texas’ big oil towns. Jessica’s parents, Reba “Cissy” McClure and Lewis “Chip” McClure, were only teenagers when they welcomed their daughter into the world.

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On October 14, 1987, 18-month-old Jessica McClure fell into an eight-inch diameter well pipe in the backyard of her aunt in Midland, Texas. She remained there for 58 hours before being rescued at about 8:30 pm on October 16, 1987. (Photo by Barbara Laing / Liaison Agency)

They didn’t have much money at the time but did their best to raise Jessica with the help of their families. Like so many other millions of babies around the world at the time, Jessica’s life passed without any major incidents for the first 18 months. However, on October 14 of 1987, everything was about to change, and things would never be quite the same for Jessica or her family.

The Incident

On October 14, Jessica was staying with her aunt, Jamie Moore. Jamie ran a daycare center at her Midland, Texas home and was looking after several other children as well as Jessica on that fateful day. Jessica’s mother, Cissy, was there too to keep an eye on her daughter, but she learned the hard way that if you let a child out of your sight for just a moment, the consequences can be disastrous. The kids were playing in the yard, and the phone rang. Cissy went inside to get the call, and Jamie wasn’t supervising them at the time either.

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Rescuers worked for 58 hours to free ‘Baby Jessica’ from the eight-inch-wide hole in which she fell. (Photo by David Woo/Sygma via Getty Images)

Just a few minutes later, Cissy and Jamie heard screams from outside and rushed out, shocked to see that Jessica had seemingly vanished without a trace. Moments later, Cissy realized that her daughter had fallen into the little well in Jamie’s backyard. Jamie knew about the danger of the well but had covered it up with a large rock to avoid any accidents. The exact way in which Jessica ended up in the well remains a mystery to this day, but Cissy wasn’t interested in how it happened at the time; all she wanted was to get her daughter out alive. The well itself measured 8 inches in diameter and ran down for around 22 feet. It was a very tight, slim shaft and little Jessica had fallen very far down.

The Rescue

Naturally, the cops were called, and emergency service workers arrived on the scene very quickly. Initially, it was hoped that the rescue would pass by quite quickly without any incidents or issues, but the rescue workers from the Midland Fire and Police departments promptly realized that this job was going to be much tougher than they initially thought due to the size and shape of the well shaft. The workers had to devise a plan to rescue Jessica as quickly as possible without endangering her further. This plan involved the help of local oil workers, who were asked to drill a tunnel down parallel to the well and then dig across into the area where Jessica was lodged. Unfortunately, it all took a lot longer in practice than in theory.

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(Photo by Barbara Laing / Liaison Agency)

The first tunnel, going downwards, was completed within six hours, but the second tunnel, going perpendicular into the well, was much more of a challenge. A mining engineer was on hand to observe and control the whole procedure, with a large team of paramedics, drill experts, rescue workers, and others all helping out. In total, it took 45 hours for the two tunnels to be finished, and the team was happy to hear little Jessica singing “Winnie the Pooh” theme tune from inside her rocky prison as they approached. A paramedic named Robert O’Donnell was the man to go through the tunnel and free the baby from the well, 56 hours after she’d fallen.

The Media

During the rescue, media networks and news crews from around the US and even further afield around the world started reporting on the event. The US president at the time, Ronald Reagan, also said that for those few days, everyone in the US felt like part of Jessica’s extended family as they watched and waited, all hoping for good news of a successful rescue.

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The rescue team at work. (Photo by Barbara Laing / Liaison Agency)

CNN covered the entire event, and many other news organizations shared reports on everything that happened along the way, with local news stations being flooded with calls from around the globe. Like a Hollywood movie brought to life, the incident gripped the entire world, with millions of total strangers all praying that everything would turn out okay for Jessica and her family.

Aftermath

Jessica didn’t escape her ordeal entirely unharmed. One of her toes had seen its circulation cut off and had to be amputated as gangrene had set in. She also cut her head and developed a scar from this wound, as well as having to undergo several surgeries in the years that followed.

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Mother – Reba ‘Cissy’ McClure. (Photo by Barbara Laing / Liaison Agency)

As she was so young, Jessica has no memory of what happened. Sadly, her mom and dad decided to get a divorce a few years after the incident, and the paramedic who rescued her, Robert O’Donnell, had posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eventually committing suicide in 1995. Jessica and her parents got to visit the White House and were interviewed on TV, with a photo of Jessica’s rescue even winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1988.

Jessica Today

After the incident, Jessica grew up mostly like a regular little girl. She went to school and high school, graduating in 2004 and meeting a man named Daniel Morales, whom she would marry in 2006 at the age of 19. The pair met at a daycare center and had since welcomed two children of their own into the world, a boy and a girl. In 2011, when Jessica turned 25, she inherited a huge trust fund of all the donations she had received over the years, totaling around $800,000.

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(Original Caption) President Bush laughs as Jessica McClure, 3, tries on his glasses during a ceremony 11/1 where Sioux City, Iowa was awarded the Midland Community Service Award for that city’s efforts in last summer’s crash of United Airlines flight 232. Jessica achieved fame when her hometown of Midland, Texas joined together to save her from an abandoned well after being trapped 52 hours.

Her story was featured or mentioned in various songs and TV shows, and a 1989 TV movie of her story entitled Everybody’s Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure was released in 1989. Now named Jessica McClure Morales, she rarely speaks about the incident and seems to be living a happy, normal life.