Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Baby Jessica

Do you remember Baby Jessica from 20 years ago? The baby that fell down the well when her mother left her in the yard alone when she ran into the house to answer the phone?

I just think it's interesting how much the country has changed in those 20 years. Today the mother would be prosecuted for child endangerment.

Here's the Houston Chronicle story that updates the life of Baby Jessica.

MIDLAND — There was no fanfare here Tuesday to mark the day in 1987 when 18-month-old Jessica McClure was lifted to safety after falling into the open backyard well.

The young wife and mother is living quietly in this West Texas oil patch city.

"Jessica's just been a wonderful, wonderful mother," said her father, Chip McClure. "That's always been Jessica's dream, to be a stay-at-home mom."

In 3½ years, however, her quiet existence might change when all the tributes that were sent to her while the nation waited anxiously for her safe rescue matures into a payment of $1 million or more.

Many of the sympathetic strangers worldwide who remained glued to television coverage until Jessica was freed from 22 feet below the ground showered the family with teddy bears, homemade gifts, cards and cash.

The cash sits in a trust fund waiting for the 21-year-old to turn 25. Her father says Jessica is a happy and active woman, and doing "all the normal stuff" with her year-old son, Simon.

A woman who answered the phone at a listing for Jessica McClure's husband, Daniel Morales, identified herself as Jessica but told an Associated Press reporter she had reached a wrong number.

Richardo Morales, Simon's uncle, said Jessica has talked about the windfall and has plans "to put it into a fund for Simon."


Life during the oil bust
In 1987, Chip and Cissy McClure were poor teenagers struggling to make ends meet during the depths of the oil bust.

Cissy McClure left Jessica in her sister's yard while she went to answer the phone.

Moments later, Jessica happened upon an 8-inch hole and innocently touched off a global event.

When rescuers brought her to the surface 2½ days later, her head was bandaged, she was covered with dirt and bruises, and her right palm was immobilized to her face, an image ingrained in millions of people's memories and one that won a Pulitzer Prize for Odessa American photographer Scott Shaw.

Chip McClure remembers being "absolutely floored" by the media coverage once the family got to the hospital with Jessica.

Vice President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, former Midland residents, visited. President Ronald Reagan called.

"It's a little surreal," Chip McClure said about the passage of so many years.

"It's difficult to comprehend."

About three years after the TV cameras left Midland, Chip and Cissy divorced. Each has remarried.

But throughout Jessica's childhood, both worked to give her a normal life.

"At the end of the day, she went through a lot and was loved by millions and millions," said Chip McClure, 38, who sells real estate in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Jessica has no memory of the ordeal, the loss of part of one foot, and the 15 operations that followed the 2 1/2 days she spent wedged all alone in the well, singing about Winnie the Pooh.

Chip McClure said that he and Jessica's mother allowed their daughter to decide whether to talk to the media once she got old enough. Jessica has spoken publicly twice since 1987.

In June, Jessica told NBC that the ordeal "couldn't cage me then, why should it cage me now?"

In 2002, she told Ladies' Home Journal that talk of her "incident" bored her, but referred to the scars she bore.

"I'm proud of them," she said. "I have them because I survived."


Humor in retrospect

A poll taken by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in 1997 that measured coverage of Princess Diana's death earlier that year found that in the previous decade, only Jessica's rescue rivaled the Paris car accident in worldwide attention.

Her uncle said it still comes up, but with a touch of humor.

"There's times when we sit down and talk about it," Richardo Morales said. "We'll be saying, 'Watch out, there's a well.' "

Life didn't turn out as smoothly for others involved in the toddler's rescue.

In 1995, paramedic and rescuer Robert O'Donnell, who wriggled into the passageway and slathered a frightened Jessica in petroleum jelly before sliding her out into the bright television lights, shot and killed himself at his parents' ranch outside Midland.

His brother, Rick, has said O'Donnell's life "fell apart" because of the stress of the rescue, the attention it created and the anticlimactic return to everyday life.

In 2004, William Andrew Glasscock Jr., a former Midland police officer who helped in the rescue, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison on charges of sexual exploitation of a child and improper storage of explosives. A year later, he was sentenced to 20 years on two state charges of sexual assault.

Meanwhile, Jessica graduated from high school in Greenwood, not far from Midland, and married Daniel Morales, 34, in early 2006.

The economy of the city and the region has rebounded in 20 years. The Permian Basin area has gone from a bust in the oil industry to a boom, thanks to the high price of crude oil, which on Monday went above $85 a barrel. In 1987, a barrel of oil was less than $10.


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