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Funeral planned for South Kitsap woman killed in Haiti

South Kitsap resident Molly Hightower was volunteering with special needs children in Haiti. She was killed when the building she lived in collapsed Tuesday. - Photo courtesy of Friends of the Orphans
South Kitsap resident Molly Hightower was volunteering with special needs children in Haiti. She was killed when the building she lived in collapsed Tuesday.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Friends of the Orphans

A funeral for Molly Hightower, the South Kitsap woman killed in Haiti last week, will be held tomorrow (Jan. 20) at St. John Bosco Catholic Church in Lakewood.

The service begins at 11 a.m., and all who were touched by the young woman’s story are invited to attend. The church is located at 10508 112th Street SW.

Hightower’s body was found Friday morning in the collapsed building where she lived in Haiti.

“We received the call we did not want. Molly’s body has been recovered,” Molly’s father Mike Hightower wrote in an e-mail sent shortly after learning that a search crew from Virginia located the 22-year-old in the rubble.

The family had waited anxiously for news of Hightower since the 7.0 quake struck near the country’s capital Port-au-Prince Jan. 12. She had moved there in June to volunteer with a group called Friends of the Orphans — an aid organization for orphaned and abandoned children — providing physical therapy to those with special needs.

“The seven-story building where she was living (near Pétionville) has collapsed down to a floor-and-a-half,” Hightower said following the quake, explaining that while he and his family waited for news, they were comforted by news that some people had been pulled out of the building alive.

Rachel Prusynski, a fellow University of Portland graduate who was visiting Hightower in Haiti from Idaho, escaped the building with a broken arm. Fellow volunteer Erin Kloos also escaped alive, but her brother, 24-year-old Ryan Kloos, who was visiting from San Diego, was killed.

Blair Ciecko with Friends of the Orphans said that none of the children Hightower worked with were inside the building when it collapsed.

“All our reports are indicating that no children were hurt or killed,” Ciecko said, explaining that the children’s orphanage is a separate building from where Hightower and the other volunteers lived.

Ciecko said Hightower’s body was recovered at 4:30 a.m. EST Jan. 15, and members of her group in Haiti were working with Molly’s family to have her body returned to the United States.

“Our priority right now is to get Molly back here,” said Craig Hightower, Molly’s uncle. On Sunday, Mike Hightower said both his daughter’s and Kloos’ bodies had been transported to a funeral home in the Dominican Republic, and the family was working with Alaska Airlines to have her body returned to Washington State.

In the meantime, her uncle said he hoped everyone who knew Molly or read about her story remembered her as “an absolutely wonderful, loving young lady full of compassion and hope. We are going to cherish that, and hold that memory close.”

Hightower said his niece was following in her aunt and uncle’s footsteps by traveling to Haiti to help others.

“She grow up in a household full of pictures and stories (of the people they helped),” he said. “She wanted to answer the call, and help the poorest of the poor.”

He added that the family “absolutely” took comfort in knowing that Molly had been following her passion and doing what she loved.

Molly’s older sister Jordan, 24, updated followers on Twitter about the family’s tragic news.

“We take peace in knowing she is with our Lord although our hearts are breaking,” she wrote. “Remember our beautiful Molly — the most Christ-centered, compassionate, vibrant lover of life we know. Live in (her) example — with selfless compassion and a joyful spirit.”

Molly Hightower attended South Kitsap schools until high school, graduating from Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep School in 2005. In 2009, she graduated from the University of Portland.

Another Port Orchard woman, nurse Rebekah Miner, 23, who also started working in Haiti last year, is reportedly fine.

Her grandmother, Jeannie Thiessen of Southworth, said her granddaughter, who just returned to Haiti after visiting Port Orchard for the holidays, called her family to say she is OK.

“They felt the building shaking, and ran outside,” Thiessen said, explaining that her granddaughter is in Cape Haitian. “We are very grateful.”

However, Thiessen said that Miner is very worried about some of her colleagues working in Port-au-Prince, which is much closer to the epicenter of the quake.

Hightower’s family, which includes her mother Mary and two bothers, Zach and Sean, has not announced funeral plans for Molly, but Friends of the Orphans are hosting a prayer service for victims and their families of the Haitian earthquake. The service will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 15, at St. Louise Church in Bellevue, 141 - 156th Avenue N.E.

Read Molly Hightower's blog.

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