January 15, 2010 in Region

Gonzaga priest’s niece died in Haiti earthquake

Associated Press
 

SEATTLE — A recent college graduate from Port Orchard who was volunteering at a Haiti orphanage was killed when the Port-au-Prince earthquake struck, her family said Friday.

Molly Hightower, 22, was on the fifth floor of a seven-story orphanage building in Petionville when it collapsed, the organization that runs the orphanage told her father Mike Hightower of Port Orchard.

Hightower went to high school at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma and in 2009 graduated from the University of Portland, where she majored in psychology, sociology and French. She arrived in Haiti in June for a year of service working for Friends of Orphans. She helped at an orphanage and at a hospital and also worked with disabled children.

“Molly gave unconditional love to a group of kids who might otherwise not have had that love,” said her uncle, the Rev. Craig Hightower. He is the director of Campus Ministry at Gonzaga University.

She loved her work, but found it difficult when the orphans were taken away or died, her father, Mike Hightower, told the Kitsap Sun.

“She said she was tired of going to funerals. She did quite a bit of that,” he said.

Molly kept a blog about her experiences in Haiti called “525,600 Minutes” and wrote about the joys and challenges of her volunteer work.

“We went to bless the babies that died in the hospital the night before, which I’ve never done before. It was devastating to see them be unwrapped, cleaned, blessed and rewrapped to be buried,” she wrote in December.

In November, Molly wrote, “We had visitors Saturday so the kids had a big program with lots of dancing and music. The girls are such good dancers and are beautiful in their costumes!”

Molly was applying for graduate school and planned to study to become a special education teacher or work in counseling-related field, said Craig Hightower, director of the university ministry at Gonzaga University.

He described Molly as “a typical American young lady” — she ran cross country and played soccer in high school, was an editor on the yearbook and school newspaper, and worked at Target during school breaks.

She was one of four children who all went to high school together. The other three — an older sister and two younger brothers — are all college students.

Her uncle said Molly was doing everything she could to help disabled orphans, including physical therapy and spending time with them in a swimming pool.

A public memorial for Molly was scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at St. Louise Catholic Church in Bellevue. A private service was held Friday morning at her high school in Tacoma.

Another Washington woman was caught in earthquake rubble but pulled out three hours later, her family told The Seattle Times.

Katie Zook, 22, of Arlington, had been teaching in Haiti on a mission with the Free Methodist Church. She was on the top floor of a five-story building that collapsed. She suffered chest, leg and spleen injuries, according to her grandmother, Laurine Zook.

After being rescued by a U.S. doctor, Katie was treated at a United Nations hospital and later flown to a Florida hospital after a stop in Cuba. She appears to be doing well after additional surgery, her grandmother said.

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