20 Years Later: The Little Girl In The Well

Greg Kandra is the editor of "Couric & Co."

(AP (file))
A decade ago, I found myself working on a cable documentary about a little girl who fell down a well. In the late 1980's, it was a story that had gripped the world in the days before we were all being riveted by the likes of O.J., Paris, and Britney.

I was astonished to read this morning that the girl who fell down the well, a.k.a. "Baby Jessica," is now 21 -- and a lot has changed:

The 18-month old girl pulled from a backyard well in the U.S. two decades ago is now a young wife and mother - one waiting to collect donations given to her during her ordeal that are expected to total $1 million or more.

The anniversary of Jessica McClure's rescue passed Tuesday like almost every other day in the 21-year-old's life, with no public comment from her about the event that once captivated viewers around the world.

The young wife and mother is living quietly in this West Texas city, the same one where she fell into the backyard well.

"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 donations sent to her when she was a baby mature into a payment of $1 million or more.

Many of the sympathetic strangers who remained glued to television coverage until Jessica was freed from 22 feet below the ground showered her family with teddy bears, homemade gifts, cards and cash. It will remain in a trust fund until she turns 25.

At the end of the day, she went through a lot, and was loved by millions and millions.

father Chip McClureHer 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."

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. The image was ingrained in millions of people's memories and won a Pulitzer Prize for Odessa American photographer Scott Shaw.

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.

There's more at
the link, including some heart-rending news about tragedy that has touched the lives of some of those involved in her rescue. It seems like it was a long, long time ago, doesn't it?