A 22-year-old woman from Port Orchard is reported to be trapped in the rubble of a seven-story building in Haiti. Molly Hightower has been working with orphans and disabled children.

Share story

In June, 22-year-old Molly Mackenzie Hightower of Port Orchard arrived in Haiti for a year of service assisting in an orphanage and hospital.

On Tuesday, she was caught in a seven-story building that collapsed in the earthquake, and her family here in Washington is anxiously awaiting word about efforts to free her from the rubble.

“I did ask some of the people at the (U.S.) embassy about going down there. But they basically advised against it,” her father, Mike Hightower, said today. “I figured I might as well leave that (airplane) seat open for someone with the right set of skills to help in the rescue.”

A friend of Molly Hightower’s was pulled from the seventh story of the wrecked building on Tuesday and told the family that Molly was on the fifth floor as the enormous earthquake struck Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Mike Hightower said rescuers were able to free at least two people who were trapped below the fifth floor, so the family remains hopeful Molly also can be rescued.

Hightower was working for Friends of the Orphans, which operates in Haiti with the help of several hundred international volunteers. And at the time of the earthquake, she was in the Father Wasson Center, which has both volunteer residences and a clinic for disabled children.

The Haiti-based director of Caribbean operations, Father Rick Frechette, was out of the country at the time of the earthquake. He returned today and will visit the collapsed building try to make sure all available resources are dedicated to the rescue effort, according to Blair Ciecko, a spokesman for Friends of the Orphans.

The Hightower family is publicizing Molly’s plight in hopes of raising the profile of the rescue effort, and gaining more help. This afternoon, they were heartened by a report posted on the Web site of the Palm Beach (Florida) Post News that a search-and-rescue team from Fairfax County, Va., was on site and looking for Hightower.

The Palm Beach reporter on scene, John Lantigua, noted that Hightower’s co-workers had spent the previous night trying to find her. Today, a rescue team member sent a German shephard named Cazon onto the rubble pile, again and again, in hopes of catching a scent of a buried person.

Molly Hightower is a 2009 graduate of the University of Portland. Her majors included sociology and French. In Haiti, she helped at an orphanage, at a hospital and also worked with disabled children.

In a blog, she has written about the challenges of her job, such as helping to console a 7-year-old with a cleft palate who had been abandoned by his mother.

“I’ve never encountered an abandoned child who is aware of his situation, or one who feels the pain so freshly. It broke my heart,” Molly wrote in a December blog entry.

In another December entry, she reflected on the swift passage of time during her year in Haiti.

“It’s very weird to think that my trip is more than half over at this point,” she wrote. “I have a ticket back to Seattle on June 8th, so really, I’m only here for five more months and some odd days. My frappachino maker is waiting for me.”

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

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.