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FIREFIGHTER WHO RESCUED BABY KILLS SELF

The firefighter who shimmied through a narrow shaft to rescue Baby Jessica from a well eight years ago was found dead of a gunshot wound, an apparent suicide.

Robert O'Donnell, 37, was an 11-year veteran of the fire department and an outstanding paramedic, said Midland Fire Chief James Roberts.But he was never the same after rescuing Jessica McClure in 1987, his brother said Wednesday.

On Monday, his body was found on his parents' ranch near Stanton, about 20 miles northeast of Midland. He wrote a suicide note and drove to a pasture, where he apparently shot himself to death, Glasscock County Deputy Sheriff Fred Schroyer said.

O'Donnell went on to portray a reporter in a made-for-TV movie about the rescue. But in 1992, he quit the fire department and got a divorce.

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

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 safely.

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. Afterward, "she looked totally relieved," O'Donnell said. "I think she knew she was free."