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Originally published January 15, 2010 at 7:55 AM | Page modified January 15, 2010 at 9:37 PM

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Missing Port Orchard woman found dead in Haiti

The family of 22-year-old Molly Hightower, of Port Orchard, was told early today that searchers had found the young woman's body in the wreckage of a building where she worked as a volunteer.

Seattle Times staff reporters

The family of 22-year-old Molly Hightower, of Port Orchard, was dealing today with the devastating news from Haiti that searchers found the young woman's body in the wreckage of a building where she worked as a volunteer.

Her father, Mike Hightower, said he had to stop by a grocery store today to pick up some items.

"I walked out of the store, and I looked around and everything is the same; it's like nothing has changed. But she's not here," said Hightower, general manager of a Tacoma steel company.

He said it's helped that the family home now is filled with the young woman's two younger brothers, and older sister, all college students, as well as numerous relatives.

It's when he's alone that the emotions spill over.

Hightower said he stopped by his office to pick up some materials and tell employees he'd be back in a week. He hugged them and told them: "Don't say anything to make me cry."

But when he returned to his car, he couldn't control the tears.

A private memorial service was to be held at Molly's high-school alma mater, Bellarmine Preparatory High School in Tacoma.

A public memorial for all the quake victims, including Molly Hightower, is set for 7 p.m. today at St. Louise Catholic Church, 141 156th Ave. S.E. in Bellevue.

A friend of Hightower's, who was pulled from the seventh story of the wrecked building on Tuesday, told the family that Molly was on the fifth floor as the magnitude 7.0 quake struck Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area.

Hightower was a 2009 graduate of the University of Portland. She had a triple major, in sociology, psychology and French.

She arrived in Haiti in June for a year of service working for Friends of the Orphans, which operates with the help of several hundred international volunteers. She helped at an orphanage, at a hospital and also worked with disabled children.

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Hightower said he and his wife, Mary Hightower, last saw their daughter when she stayed with them Dec. 8-17.

The young woman told her parents she had to return to Haiti before Christmas.

"She wanted to spend Christmas with the orphans," her dad said.

Hightower today spoke about Molly's hopes. She was applying to graduate schools, with the eventual goal of working in international adoption.

She and her parents would e-mail and talk via Skype every week.

One of the last things his daughter asked, said Hightower, "was to have all her grad-school test results scanned" and e-mailed to her.

Another Washington woman was also caught in earthquake rubble, but she was pulled out three hours later and survived, according to family members.

Katie Zook, 22, from 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, and she suffered chest, leg and spleen injuries, according to her grandmother Laurine Zook.

"Her chest was compromised, and she couldn't breathe well," Laurine Zook said.

After being rescued by a U.S. doctor, Katie Zook was treated at a United Nations hospital, then flown to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where her condition worsened. She was then flown to a Florida hospital, where she appears to be doing well after additional surgery, her grandmother said.

For the Hightowers, it's been just hours since final confirmation of their daughter's death.

"I think my wife was more accepting than I was. I was going to hold out hope as long as I could," said Hightower.

Now, he said, "You're just numb."

Erik Lacitis: 206-4642237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com;

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com;

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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