A Kenyan woman vanished in Wyoming after meeting boyfriend on Craigslist. Six months on, her family plead for answers

A Kenyan woman vanished in Wyoming after meeting boyfriend on Craigslist. Six months on, her family plead for answers

The family of a missing woman are pleading for information for their loved one six months after she vanished.

Thirty-two-year-old Irene Gakwa was last seen by her family during a video call on 24 February, members of her family told CNN in an interview. Ms Gakwa, who had moved from Kenya to the US in 2019 to pursue a career in healthcare, lived with her boyfriend Nathan Hightman, 39, in Gillette, Wyoming.

Gillette police have said that after Ms Gakwa went missing, Mr Hightman withdrew more than $3,000 from Ms Gakwa’s bank account and maxed out another $3,230 on her credit card. He allegedly told authorities that Ms Gakwa had left on her own and he had removed the money from her account to force her to return.

Law enforcement also seized a pair of boots and a shovel Mr Hightman purchased with Ms Gakwa’s card. Mr Hightman, who Ms Gakwa met on Craigslist, was listed as a person of interest in her disappearance and charged with two felony counts of theft and unlawful use of a credit card.

Speaking to CNN, Ms Gakwa’s father and brother recounted their last exchanges with her on the phone, and opened up about the uncertainty they face as days pass without any information about her whereabouts.

Irene Gakwa (whereisirene.com)
Irene Gakwa (whereisirene.com)

“She was supposed to come home for Christmas this year. I was going to buy that ticket myself for her to come if she couldn’t afford it,” Francis Kambo, Ms Gakwa’s father, told the network. “Now I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again.”

During their last video call together, Ms Gakwa seemed exhausted, her father said. Mr Kambo reportedly advised her to drink “hot milk and relax,” and never heard back from his daughter again.

Mr Kambo, who was not aware his daughter lived with Mr Hightman, said that he received odd messages from her WhatsApp account. In one of them, his daughter told him that she had dropped her phone in the water and the microphone was not working.

In early March, unusual texts were sent from Ms Gakwa’s phone about moving to Texas, the family said on their website whereisIrene.com.

The messages, her brother Wainaina told CNN, were not in her first language. Ms Gakwa’s brothers, who live in Meridian, Idaho, then decided to access her phone records and discovered her phone was last active in Gillette on 4 March.

The phone account was deleted on 10 March before her family filed a missing person report on 20 March. According to Univision, neighbours told police they saw Mr Hightman burning a 55-gallon drum that he had bought the day of Ms Gakwa’s last video call with her parents on 24 February.

Since then, Ms Gakwa’s parents and brothers have pleaded with the Gilette community to join the search. During one of the many search parties organized by her brothers, Ms Gakwa’s neighbours chanted ‘Nate, where’s Irene?’ outside Mr Hightman’s home.

Mr Hightman was briefly arrested in May and charged with financial crimes. He has since been released and is considered a person of interest.

Gillette police told CNN he is not cooperating with the investigation. The Independent has reached out to the department for comment.