Baby Jessica: 20 Years Later

Jessica McClure's fall into well was front-page news in 1987. Now, she's a mom.

ByABC News via logo
February 18, 2009, 3:47 PM

Oct. 17, 2007 — -- In October 1987, the nation focused in on Midland, Texas, and became captivated by the story of an 18-month-old toddler who had fallen in a well.

Now, 20 years after she gained world's attention, 21-year-old Jessica McClure is a wife and mother in Midland, who is preparing to collect donations given to her by sympathetic strangers at the time.

McClure, or baby Jessica as she came to be known to the world, may receive an estimated $1 million or more when she gains access to the trust fund at age 25.

McClure is unable to remember how she fell into the well, which was covered by a flower pot in her backyard, or how she got stuck 22 feet below the ground. She gained international attention as rescuers worked to free her.

The fact that McClure has no memory of the event may be ironic because many of her rescuers and residents said they will never be able to forget it.

Jonnie Johnson, now 93, still lives across the street from McClure's old home and is one of the few residents from that time still in the neighborhood.

"I didn't know whether they would ever get her out or not, but I was praying," she said.

While Johnson prayed, exhausted rescue teams worked for 58 hours, breaking dozens of drill bits as they frantically tried to dig a parallel hole into the hard Texas soil.

Thousands of journalists descended upon the region to tell the story of the girl in the well, and cameras were fixed on the scene when a dirt-soiled baby Jessica was pulled out of the well.

Former Fire Chief James Roberts led the remarkable rescue and said his reaction to the moment Jessica was saved was captured forever in a famous Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph.

"That was the first look I really had of her, and it was quite a bit of amazement and awe," he said.

While the town's civic center has a memorial to commemorate the rescue, today Midland has moved past the drama of baby Jessica's recovery. In fact, many shy away from the spotlight.

"They are not the kind of people who want notoriety," Roberts said. "They don't want the publicity. They wanted to come and do what they did and get it behind them. And I think that is the felling of all of us here."

Even McClure's mother Reba, who was 17 years old at the time and thanked the world for its aid, seeks privacy. Today, she and McClure's father are divorced.

But perhaps the most disturbing and tragic story since the rescue happened to the paramedic who pulled Jessica to safety while down in the well.

"She was the prettiest little girl I ever seen when we got her out," Robert O'Donnell said at the time.

In 1995 he committed suicide.

Still, he and others involved in the rescue always will be synonymous with a moment seared in time.