It is nearly seven months since Kenyan woman Irene Gakwa was reported missing in Gillette, Wyoming and efforts to trace her have not borne fruit.
The 32-year-old has not been heard from since February 24th when she had a WhatsApp video call with her parents who live in Nairobi, Kenya.
Irene emigrated to the United States in May 2019, hoping to launch a career in nursing and first settled in Idaho, where she lived with her brothers Chris Munga and Kennedy Wainaina while attending classes.
This is when she met a man on Craigslist named Nathan Hightman and the two started dating before they decided to relocate to Wyoming in the summer of 2021. The two were engaged and lived together in a three-bedroom house in Gillette.
“It seemed OK. At that time, everything seemed OK. I didn’t really know Nathan, but I said, ‘If you’re going to date my sister, I really need to know about you and it’s going to take a time or two to hang out,’” Wainaina told NewsNation in a recent interview.
Wainaina says he grew suspicious when he noticed that the language in her sister’s text messages had changed.
“We’re from Kenya and sometimes we mix English and a language called Swahili. We mix a word of English and a word of Swahili, so I can tell that’s her. But then, on March 5, I texted her and asked her something. She texted back, and it was only English. So now that I know what I know, maybe it wasn’t her,” he said.
Wainaina and his brother Munga reported her missing to the Gillette Police Department on March 20th.
It is alleged that Irene and Hightman, 38, had broken up several times since they began dating in 2020. Her brothers thought the two were no longer dating and were not aware they had reunited and moved in together.
Hightman told police in March that Irene came home one night and packed her clothes in two bags and then left in a dark-colored SUV.
“I think that’s false. That’s a false story, something he was just saying to get the police off his porch,” Wainaina told NewsNation.
Police later arrested Hightman and charged him with draining Irene’s bank accounts, deleting her email account and using her credit card at Walmart to buy a shovel, a pair of boots and a pair of pants. He was released on a $10,000 bond and his pretrial conference is scheduled for November.
He told police that he withdrew money from her accounts in an attempt to force her to contact him when she needed cash.
Stacy Koester, a resident of Gillette has been organizing searches with a group of local women since April even though she did not know Irene in person. She organized a search with horses that specialize in human decomposition, used cadaver dogs, and covered hundreds of miles.
“There’s a lot of vast open country and one main road may have 50 to 60 side roads, twists and turns. So, it’s covering the areas and making sure that you don’t go over those same places repeatedly,” Koester told NewsNation.
Koester was recently hit with a protective stalking order by Hightman, who objected to her using his name and other information on TikTok.
“I was blown away by this because I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m looking for a missing woman,” Koester said.
Koester appeared in court Thursday to deal with the protective stalking order that’s been filed against her.
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 asked 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 also sought information about a possible 55-gallon metal drum that may have been burned or abandoned in the county.
Anyone with information on the case is urged to call the Gillette Police Department at 307-682-5155.