Kenyan immigrant goes missing after meeting man online

Francis Akhalbey September 07, 2022
The last time Irene Gakwa’s family saw her was in February. She was staying with her boyfriend Nathan Hightman (right) at the time -- Photos via CNN

The family of a missing Kenyan immigrant is searching for answers to her disappearance after she relocated to Wyoming to stay with a man she met on a Craigslist forum. According to CNN, the last time Irene Gakwa’s parents saw her was via a WhatsApp video call on February 24. And though there was some banter during their conversation, they noticed she wasn’t herself.

Gakwa, who moved to the United States from her native Kenya less than three years ago, was reported missing a month after the February video call. At the time her parents had the video call with her, they did not know she had moved to Gillette, Wyoming, to stay with a man she established contact with on Craigslist. 

“She’s always been a daddy’s girl,” Gakwa’s father, Francis Kambo, told the news outlet in an interview from Kenya. 

“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,” he continued. “Now I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again.”

The missing woman’s father also said that he started becoming concerned about his daughter when she stopped answering their video calls. Her family said that did not add up as they were initially in constant communication. 

Her family also said her written messages were unusual. They said her use of Kenyan and Swahili slang to text felt off, and it seemed like Google translate was being used to send the messages.

In their effort to find her, Gakwa’s brothers, who live in Idaho, ultimately got to know she had moved to Gillette to stay with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Nathan Hightman. Her brothers said they thought Gakwa and Hightman had broken up. They also said they did not know they had reconciled and were staying together. Prior to moving to Gillette, Gakwa was staying with one of her brothers in Idaho.

Gakwa’s brothers, on March 20, contacted the Gillette Police Department to report her missing. A probable cause affidavit in connection with a different criminal case against Hightman stated that an officer spoke with the 39-year-old man the day Gakwa was reported missing, CNN reported.

Hightman informed the officer that the last time he saw Gakwa was in late February. He claimed the missing woman had come to their home to pick up her clothes, adding that she later entered a colored SUV and left. Hightman also claimed he took money out of Gakwa’s account so she wouldn’t have an option but to get in touch with him if she wanted money, the affidavit stated.

One of Gakwa’s brothers said Hightman did not heed to request to return their sister’s belongings that were in their home. Hightman also refused to hand over her Kenyan passport and other documents.

And though Hightman has since been named as a person of interest in Gakwa’s disappearance, Gillette police said he has “not made himself available to detectives looking to resolve questions that exist in the investigation.”

“We believe he has information pertaining to the disappearance of Irene, but he has elected not to provide that information to law enforcement at this time,” Gillette police detective Dan Stroup told CNN.

Authorities have not brought any charges against Hightman for Gakwa’s disappearance. He was, however, arrested in May on suspicion of committing financial crimes against Gakwa after her disappearance. Hightman faces a slew of charges including two felony counts of theft, one felony count of unlawful use of a credit card, and two felony counts of crimes against intellectual property for allegedly changing the password of Gakwa’s bank account and getting rid of her email address after she went missing, CNN reported.

Court documents reveal Hightman allegedly withdrew money from Gakwa’s bank account and also maxed out her credit card. The 39-year-old suspect allegedly deleted Gakwa’s email address and changed the passwords to her bank accounts by using an IP address that was linked to him, a probable cause affidavit stated, adding that those changes were made after he informed police that Gakwa was no longer staying with him.

Court documents also stated that Hightman allegedly used Gakwa’s Visa card to purchase a shovel and boots at a Walmart store in late February. Those items were found during a search at their home.

“This would indicate it was Nathan Hightman accessing Irene’s account, removing money and changing the password to deny access to Irene,” the affidavit stated. “These transactions began on February 25, 2022, and continued through March 2022.”

Hightman entered a not guilty plea. He was released after posting a $10,000 bond. 

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: September 7, 2022


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