May 7, 2001, 10:46AM
World's attention riveted on trapped toddler
ONE Wednesday evening in October 1987, Jessica McClure was playing in
her aunt's back yard when she slipped down a dark, abandoned well shaft
and into the international spotlight.
There, 22 feet below the surface in her Midland hometown, 18-month-old
Jessica remained tightly wedged. Above, paramedics and other emergency
crew were working outside the 8-inch hole under the watchful eyes of
scores of reporters and photographers.
For the next 58 1/2 hours, Jessica's courage, her cries and her songs of
Humpty Dumpty and Winnie the Pooh would capture the
But in the next day's Chronicle -- Oct. 15, 1987, 24 hours after Jessica
fell into the well -- two stories got better play than "Rescuers
drilling desperately to reach girl trapped in well."
The lead story was about the safe return to her parents of 14-month-old
Liliana Reyes. Almost two weeks earlier, a homeless woman had abducted
the girl from her Houston home and taken her to a place near Mexico
City. Also at the top of the page was an article about the National
Football League players' strike, accompanied by a picture of Oilers
owner Bud Adams visiting Jacksonville, where he listened to their pitch
that he move his team there.
In the first-day coverage from Midland, correspondent Patrick Crimmins
reported on Jessica's sporadic cries and the frustration of rescue crews
and construction workers who began drilling a tunnel next to the shaft
that held Jessica.
"It seems like we might be right on the course to the girl," Midland
Police Chief Richard Czech told reporters at 6:50 a.m. "But it will be
several more hours."
The next day, most of the front page was dedicated to the rescue
attempt. A graphic by Chronicle artist Edwin Louie illustrated the
situation: the narrow shaft in which she was imprisoned and the larger
28-foot hole drilled alongside. At the bottom, rescuers were tunneling
through 2 feet of solid rock to reach Jessica. Surrounding the
illustration was an 8-inch circle showing the actual size of the shaft
she was trapped in.
Staff writer Mary Ann Kreps reported on the eminent rescue, writing that
Jessica giggled when rescuers first touched her.
"They're finally seeing what they've been working so hard for," Cpl. Jim
White of the Midland Police Department said.
The banner headline on the final morning edition Oct. 17, 1987, was
"BABY JESSICA RESCUED." Kreps described the whoops of joy and cries of
"Praise the Lord" as the child, covered with petroleum jelly used to
facilitate her release, was brought to the surface. Paramedics then
whisked Jessica to Midland Memorial Hospital.
The toddler's right foot had been lodged in an awkward position
throughout the ordeal. Doctors feared it may be gangrenous and require
amputation, but they were able to save it. She also had lost 3 pounds
and was hungry and dehydrated.
"Emergency room physicians said Jessica was lethargic when she reached
the hospital, but her attitude changed as she was put through a complete
physical examination," Kreps wrote.
"She gladly accepted half an
orange Popsicle, then was placed in the hospital's hyperbaric oxygen
unit, a piece of machinery that supplies 100-percent pressurized oxygen.
Jessica spent 90 minutes in the unit, then emerged to eat the other half
of the Popsicle."
Over the next two days, the Chronicle published six stories on Jessica's
recovery, the heroes and the community that had rallied around her. The
front-page photograph on Oct. 19 was of then-Vice President George Bush
and his wife, Barbara, at Jessica's bedside in the hospital.
It wasn't until Oct. 20 that Jessica's news moved off the front page,
giving way to stories of the panic that was sweeping Wall Street and a
plane that crashed into a Ramada Inn at the Indianapolis International
Since then, the Chronicle has published numerous updates on Jessica. In
May 1989, Ann Hodges reported on the ABC Sunday Night Movie,
Everybody's Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure. Her review
praised the accuracy of the script and the authenticity of the actors
who played Jessica's parents and her rescuers.
"Believe it or not," Hodges wrote, "ABC did get it right."
She also reported on the battles for the rights to make a movie based on
"The story of that 18-month-old child was indeed shared by everybody.
And just about everybody who makes TV movies wanted to make a movie of
that story. The race for the rights became a scramble that threatened
for a time to destroy the goodwill image that Midland and its heroic
volunteer rescuers had set for the world.
"Fortunately, though, all that was ironed out, and the happy ending is
this happy ending for ABC's fine film," Hodges said.
Ten years after Jessica's rescue, Jim Schutze, a reporter for the
Chronicle's Dallas Bureau, reported on the extraordinary circumstances
surrounding the normal life that her parents fought to give her.
"Jessica lives with her mother and stepfather, makes A's and B's in a
small private school and plays with children who know and care even less
about her rescue than she does," Schutze wrote. "The gifts that poured
in after the rescue left Jessica with a $700,000 trust fund, managed by
a local bank, not accessible to her parents except for medical and
Jessica's parents, Chip and Cissy, who are now divorced, limited her
exposure to the media and granted only one interview to a national
magazine on the 10th anniversary.
Schutze wrote about the Midland Community Spirit Award, which recognizes
a community every two years in the United States that has exhibited a
spirit of volunteer heroism reminiscent of Baby Jessica's rescue.
David Eyre, who wrote the screenplay for the ABC movie, told Schutze
that all the good and bad that happened after Jessica's rescue didn't
change the core of the story.
"The fundamental thing is that a little girl fell in a well, and she was
saved," Eyre said. "I think it should be remembered as a truly
monumental achievement, as something that brought out the very best in
Today in Midland, the well that Jessica fell into has been covered. On
the cap are these words: "For Jessica, 10/16/87, with love from all of