Woman Vanished In Wyoming After Living With Boyfriend She Met On Craigslist
Kenyan native Irene Gakwa moved to the United States to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. Less than three years later, in March 2022, she was reported missing.
32-year-old Irene Gakwa moved from Kenya to the United States to pursue her dreams of becoming a nurse. Less than three years later, on March 20, 2022, her brother reported her missing to police.
She was last seen by her parents on February 24, 2022 on a WhatsApp video call. At the time of the call, they had no idea she was living in Gillette, Wyoming with a boyfriend she had met on a Craigslist forum, according to CNN.
In early March — before she was reported missing but after she was last seen on the video call with her parents — Gakwa’s account was used to send short WhatsApp messages to her parents to “explain” why she wasn’t answering their video calls. According to her older brother, Gakwa usually used a mix of Swahili and Kenyan slang in text messages but these messages seemed different, like somebody was using Google Translate to send them.
After her family couldn’t reach her on the phone, her brothers, whom she shared a phone plan with, looked through her phone records and found out about the boyfriend she’d been living with, 39-year-old Nathan Hightman.
Police talked to Hightman the same day Gakwa was reported missing. He claimed he last saw Gakwa in late February, when she came home one night, packed her clothing in two plastic bags, and left in a dark-colored SUV, the affidavit said.
Hightman allegedly stole from Gakwa after she went missing. He reportedly withdrew money from her account after the disappearance in addition to deleting her email and changing her passwords. He was arrested on May 10, 2022, for “two felony counts of theft, one felony count of unlawful use of a credit card, and two felony counts of crimes against intellectual property,” according to PEOPLE.
On the day after that last WhatsApp call Gakwa had with her family, Hightman used her credit card to purchase a shovel, jeans, and boots.
Her family continues to speak out about their heartbreak and dedication to find justice for Gakwa.
"She's always been a daddy's girl," Francis Kambo, the missing woman’s father, told CNN. "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. Now I don't know if I'll ever see her again."
Hightman has not been charged in connection with Gakwa’s disappearance but is considered a person of interest. On June 8, 2022, Hightman pleaded not guilty to all charges against him and was released on a $10,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in court in November 2022.
If you have any information about this case, please contact the Gillette Police Department at 307-682-5155.