AUDUBON, Minn. - A phone call that every parent prays they never get - least of all on Christmas Day - told Brent Mclaughlin and Tommie Sue that their daughter, Kitti Mclaughlin, had been killed in a car-pedestrian accident early Sunday, Dec. 25.
Unable to find a ride into Frazee in the early hours of the morning, Kitti, who grew up mostly in Audubon, and her boyfriend, Mauricio Guerra of Frazee, had been walking south along Highway 29 about five miles north of Frazee when they were both struck by a vehicle, which was also travelling south along the dark highway. That vehicle was driven by Alexis Birky, 20, also of Frazee.
Mclaughlin was pronounced dead at the scene; Guerra was taken to a Fargo hospital with critical injuries, where he remains. Family and friends say the two were set to be parents, as Kitti had recently found out she was two months pregnant. It was a split second that took the life of a young, expectant mother far too soon and left Guerra fighting for his.
"The last update that I got about him wasn't very good," said Keianie Moore, a Frazee woman who says both Kitti and Mauricio are "my family, not by blood, but by love."
Moore said the latest update she had was that he was stable, but still in critical condition.
Before the accident, Moore had been searching for a place to live with the couple. Kitti had been looking for a home to "settle down" in.
"Me and her were going to find a bigger place so our kids could grow up together," said Moore, mourning the loss of her close friend, who was "wise beyond her years," but also funny, she said.
"Her and I always laughed. We clicked from the beginning," said Moore.
A "spitfire" from the get-go, Kitti's family remembers her drive and wild independence the clearest.
"She never slowed down," said her father, Brent, remembering her feisty side showing up at an early age, like the time she was about 2 years old. The family was at a birthday party, but Kitti wouldn't let anyone hit the pinata because she wanted to ride it.
"Spoiled rotten" as a kid, her dad fondly remembers her room being "knee-high with bald barbie dolls and lipstick and fingernail polish and stickers."
Her mother, Tommie Sue, said Kitti loved makeup, red lipstick in particular--enough to cover her body with it from head to toe once when she was young.
"She was all stained up with it, and she was all embarrassed because she had to go to school like that," said Tommie.
When she wasn't expertly doing her own makeup, she was giving her family makeovers.
"Since she couldn't paint anyone else's nails, I had to be the one all the time," said Tyler Mclaughlin, Kitti's older brother.
"I had my fair share, too," Brent added with a smile.
Full of "mischief," her mother says nothing really scared Kitti or got her down too much.
"One year, we didn't have a Christmas tree," Tommie remembered. "She took a swiss army knife and snuck into someone's yard and cut down a small tree...She lived life to the fullest, that's for sure."
But even with a wild side, Kitti clearly had a "huge, loving, compassionate heart"--something her parents reinforced in a loving, albeit humorous, way.
"When these kids (Kitti and Tyler) were bad, I made them put a sombrero on and look at themselves in the mirror until they were happy," Brent said with a laugh.
There were other tactics employed to try to tame Kitti's wild side, too.
"When Kitti and I would get into a fight, we had to sit across from each other at the table and hold hands," Tyler remembered.
Sombreros and hand holding aside, Kitti already had a big heart--and her family knew it, easy to see in the way she cared for her them, her friends, and even animals.
Once she found a baby deer near Shorewood Pub and took it in, caring for it, and naming it Sugar.
"She was my little Kit-Cat," said Brent.
Definitely a "daddy's girl," Kitti took after him in her ability to easily make friends and her clever wit.
"She was famous wherever she went," said Brent.