Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: THURSDAY, April 27, 1995                   TAG: 9504270074
DATELINE: STANTON, TEXAS                                LENGTH: Medium


Nearly eight years ago, the nation waited transfixed as paramedic Robert O'Donnell shimmied through a shaft to dislodge a toddler wedged down a well.

On Monday, the body of the 37-year-old man who rescued Jessica McClure in 1987 was found on his parents' ranch near Stanton.

O'Donnell wrote a suicide note and drove to a pasture, where he apparently shot himself to death, Glasscock County Deputy Sheriff Fred Schroyer said.

``Ever since that Jessica deal, his life fell apart,'' his brother Ricky said Wednesday.

Ricky O'Donnell said people had often asked his brother about the ordeal that began Oct. 14, 1987, when the 18-month-old child fell 22 feet down an abandoned well in her aunt's back yard in Midland.

Robert O'Donnell and others worked 58 hours to reach Jessica, who was finally rescued on Oct. 16. Television viewers tuned in nationwide. O'Donnell was chosen to descend a newly drilled rescue shaft parallel to the well because of his slight frame. He went down once but decided the opening rescuers had dug under the girl wasn't wide enough to pull her out without risking a paralyzing injury.

On the second try in the widened shaft, he smeared a lubricating jelly around the hole and tugged on Jessica's dangling left leg.

He said he prayed and cursed; the girl told him ``no, no'' several times as he pulled.

``To me, she looked totally relieved,'' O'Donnell said after the rescue. ``I think she knew she was free.''

O'Donnell went on to portray a reporter in a made-for-TV movie about the rescue. His brother said he got divorced and quit the Midland Fire Department in 1992.

``There's a deal that happens when people are in these real stressful situations,'' O'Donnell said. ``It's so hard for them to deal with this afterward.''

- Associated Press


 by CNB