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January 04, 2005

A Midland Flashback - a baby fell down a well

The city of Midland is rich with history, and and this is the first in a series of items involving some of that history.  Inspired in part by the headstone at  Jessica's Well we start out with a baby falling into a well.

Penned by long time Midlander Pete Hogue, here's one person's recollections about a time in 1987 when a little baby named Jessica fell down a well.  It became national news, and Pete has some vivid memories about it.  His words:


We noted in the local paper not long ago that they had graduation services at Greenwood High School located east of  Midland, TX.   It was special in that one of the 112 graduates had once made history and had reluctant celebrity status... It was not because she wanted it, but because of an apparent accident.  It did not occur while she was in school, but on a distant date, a mild, warm day in October... Wednesday , October 14, 1987 to be exact.

I was talking to an acquaintance, the Bailiff for the State District Court, when another person I recognized as the Fire Marshal came through and told us that something big had occurred.   There was a Rescue Squad out in a west Midland back yard trying to do a good job taking care of the matter.  Later that evening, the newscasters reported the incident, leaving the viewers with the thought that the difficulty was probably nearing an end, and that tomorrow will be as normal as any other day... It wasn't to be..

We went to bed, scarcely thinking of the situation, except to pray a little prayer for the people involved.  We awoke the next morning with lots of prospects for us -- today was an eleventh wedding anniversary.  We loafed around drinking coffee, visiting about various things,  reading the paper about the events of the previous day.  About 10 am, we decided to turn on the TV and watch "The Price is Right,"   but that show had been pre-empted.   It seems that the events of the previous day had not become history, but rather,  had become more complicated,  much more complicated.

We find that an 18 month old little girl  had somehow managed to slip more than 20 feet down an abandoned water well, just 8" in diameter...  Further, the problem was complicated by the fact that the baby  had one leg pointing upward, and the fact that she had one foot pressing against her forehead.  The little girl had slid the length of the steel tube and was caught on tree and grass roots growing ever toward the water below.  Had she slid past these, there would not be much chance to recover her before hypothermia set in.  In fact, the nights were cool, and warm air was piped down to her to keep her warm and oxygenated.

During this next day, following more than 24 hours in the well, decisions were made to attempt to a parallel  hole to be drilled a short distance away, which would allow a person down to work a cross-cut tunnel just below the baby.  Unfortunately, this effort was delayed, not from lack of drilling equipment or personnel to run it... after all this is Oil Country, and drilling rigs are everywhere...   The problem was that there was a massive rock that simply could not be drilled.  Blasting was out,  and a second tunnel was proposed.  A mining engineer was imported from New Mexico.  Drilling continued.  Midland held its breath -- The world held its breath...   The baby sang "Winnie the Pooh" oblivious to the circumstances that surrounded her.

Events seemed to go on forever.  People were meeting to pray, just as all of us already were.  "Lord, Please get that baby out alive, NOW!"   Even yet, tears well up at the thought of the event.

The rescue hole was complete, the cross-cut was made.  One man volunteered, a man with a congenital condition that found him without collar bones.  That trait allowed him to actually touch his shoulders together in front, and would allow him to reach the baby in a very small space.  That was turned down because of the lack of  sufficient strength when in that doubled-over condition.

As 48 hours passed, the city was covered with CNN, and all the other major news networks.  The local ABC channel was chosen for the major television feed.  We all watched, if not constantly, at least, frequently - fitfully - prayerfully.

Fireman / paramedic Robert O'Donnell was finally chosen to go into the cross-cut, to grease the hole and to slide the little one down and hopefully, OUT.   Complications seemed endless and efforts limitless.  Finally, as hour 58:00 came around, during the late evening,  Robert succeeded in pulling the very weak, dirty and stressed little body from entrapment, as if going through Re-Birth.  The whole world gasped in unity as the paramedic and the dirty,  tape-wrapped baby isolated with a back board, were elevated by rope and pulley, handed off, and hustled off to a waiting ambulance and a long-prepared hospital staff.

The events that followed were phenomenal by the scale, pomp and circumstance.  Surgery that followed included the loss of some of the baby's toes, skin graphs on the foot and forehead, resulting in both forehead and thigh scarring that remain.  The baby was covered up in toys, money,  donations and memorial tributes.   A parade was scheduled and the President paid attention.  Life had become very exhilarating  for a town of very concerned people... a town, that Barbara Bush described to a Republican Convention, as "A Great Place to Live !!"   Indeed, Mrs. Bush!

A few years later, this little girl, fully recovered, and with no remembrance of the events that had happened to her, was watching a television show called "Rescue 911."   She watched intently as footage of the rescue was shown, and  remembers:  "It broke my heart to think that happened to a little girl, then someone told me, 'Honey, that little girl was you!'"

The little girl who captured everbody's heart and became "Everybody's Baby," has now grown up.

All these events have seen some of the prominent players come to difficult times.

Robert O'Donnell, who took a big spotlight with TV appearances, and as a player in the inevitable movie on the events, lost his wife in divorce.  The wife interviewed about the cause said that all the publicity had really changed him.   His problems apparently became insurmountable over the next few years, and he subsequently ended his life with a double-barreled shotgun.  A tragic end for what seems unexplainable to the rest of us.

More recently, Midland Police Detective Andy Glasscock began to find himself in various kinds of self-made destructive behavior.  He had also been in the movie, and had been the first person on the scene, and subsequently in the middle of all the rescue operations.  He has, over the years, been a prominent Midlander from all aspects.  About two years ago he got in  trouble for allowing an unauthorized woman to ride in his patrol car.  Then was called on the carpet for allowing an off-duty female officer to fire her pistol during a party where alcohol apparently played a big part.

Andy is a big, booming kind of guy.  He was accused of raping a woman in Odessa after picking her up at one of the low-class dives in that city.   While on suspension for that, he was again arrested, and has since plead guilty for possession of explosives, and for possession and trafficking in child pornography.   In addition, it was found that he had rigged a radio with a video camera in his bathroom where a 12 year old friend of his daughter, was filmed taking a bath.  He will now serve a fifteen-and-a-half year term  on some of those Federal charges.  He still remains under cloud for the state rape charges.

The movie was pretty inept at depicting the events.  Everybody from NY and California have this mis-informed and ignorant perception of how West Texans talk, think, and act.  Locally,  this movie was generally given a D- rating for creativity and presentation.  It certainly never went into the city's historical archives...

Everybody's Baby, Jessica Arron McClure, has had to live with the "Baby Jessica" title all her life. She has been shielded from a lot of publicity, but has appeared on the VH-1 cable channel.  She admits to being somewhat claustrophobic, but many people suffer from that.   Life has been pretty normal all these years in spite of all the attention.  She seems to be a normal teenager in most respects, and that can be attributed to a Loving God who preserved her during the trying time, and Who blessed us all knowing that He hears our Prayers.

Jessica's rescue has been a blessing to us, one of those events in life that we'll never forget.


Thanks Pete. Coming up:  Wahoo McDaniel.

Posted at 12:59 PM in Life in the Tall City | Permalink


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George, I was there, at the rescue scene. Not an hour went by without another reminder of how the people of Midland and West Texas were prepared to step forward and contribute in some way to the efforts to rescue that girl. It was shining moment for the city and the region.

Posted by: Jeff | January 5, 2005 08:48 AM

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