Some residents of Gillette in the US state of Wyoming over the weekend held a silent vigil, feet on the ground search, and peaceful protest for missing Kenyan woman Irene Gakwa.
Irene, 32, was reported missing on March 20th this year and the last time she was seen was on February 24th when she had a video call with her parents, who live in Kenya.
On Friday, the group dubbed ‘Team Find Irene’ held a candlelight vigil at Lasting Legacy Park in Gillette followed by a feet-on-the-ground search the following day. It later held a peaceful protest in front of Irene’s home on Pathfinder Circle on Saturday evening.
Police believe Irene was taken to a rural area, mine site, or oil and gas location in a passenger vehicle or crossover SUV between February 24th and March 20th.
Detectives are asking the public for information concerning a gray or silver Subaru Crosstrek with Idaho license plates that may have been trespassing or appearing out of place in rural Converse County between those dates. They are also seeking information about a possible 55-gallon metal drum that may have been burned or abandoned in the county.
Irene’s elder brother Kennedy Wainaina, who works as a pharmacist in Boise, Idaho, said Irene studied and worked in Idaho before meeting her American boyfriend Nathan Hightman, 38, on an online dating website.
The two lived together in Idaho for about one and one-half years before the boyfriend suggested they move to Gillette in July last year and she agreed.
Hightman, who is considered a “person of interest” in her disappearance, was arrested and charged with theft, credit card fraud, and crimes against intellectual property for allegedly using Irene’s credit, banking, and email information without permission. He denied all the charges.
He told police that he had not seen nor heard from her since she announced that she was leaving Gillette and boarded a dark-colored SUV, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in the case.
The suspect admitted to accessing Irene’s bank account and withdrawing money in an attempt to force her to contact him when she needed cash.
Investigators executed a series of search warrants for Irene’s bank account, which showed that Hightman transferred a total $3,666.46 from her account in eight transactions and also changed her banking password.
Another search warrant executed on Irene’s email account showed the account password had been changed from a device with an IP address that detectives traced back to Hightman, per the affidavit.
The affidavit also stated that a warrant for one of her credit cards showed several charges totaling over $600, one of which occurred at Walmart for a shovel, a pair of boots, and a pair of pants that Hightman was seen carrying in a surveillance video of the transaction. The boots and shovel were later located at Hightman’s residence,
A separate warrant for another of Irene’s credit cards revealed a series of charges between February 25th and February 28th totaling $804, while another series of charges between March 1st and March 19th totaled $2,426.
About 10 transactions were traced back to Hightman’s IP address; none of them traced back to Irene’s phone IP address, according to the affidavit. The investigation also revealed that Irene’s email account had been accessed using Hightman’s IP address on March 10th and was closed.
Irene has lived in the US since 2019 and was a nursing student. She is described as a black female, approximately 5’1″, 89 pounds with brown eyes and black hair.