Orphanage volunteer from Port Orchard dies in Haitian earthquake

  • Fri Jan 15th, 2010 11:20pm
  • News

By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press

SEATTLE — A recent college graduate from Port Orchard who was volunteering at a Haitian 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 in Oregon, 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 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,” her uncle, Craig Hightower, told The Associated Press.

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 a 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.

Also injured when the orphanage collapsed was Erin Kloos, 26, a University of Washington graduate and former captain of the Huskies swim team. Kloos was in stable condition in a south Florida hospital after being rescued on Wednesday, the organization said.

Kloos’ brother, Ryan, a 2008 graduate of the University of California-San Diego, died in the building collapse.

Two state women survive Haitian earthquake

Two other Washington women survived the earthquake in Haiti.

Katie Zook, 22, of Arlington, had been teaching in Haiti on a mission with the Free Methodist Church, her family told The Seattle Times. 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.

The family of a 59-year-old Kennewick woman working at an orphanage in Haiti has heard that she survived the earthquake.

The Tri-City Herald reported that Patty Thomas called her son, Todd Thomas, Thursday night in Richland and said she was thrown around her room by the shaking but made it out the door.

Patty Thomas said she plans to stay and help children at the New Life Children’s Center in Port-au-Prince. The orphanage is run by the Florida-based World Harvest Missions Outreach.

Associated Press