Wednesday, March 29, 2023

The Disappearance of Irene Gakwa

Image source: CNN

Irene Gakwa has been missing since February 2022. 

The then-32-year-old was last seen in Gillette, Wyoming, where she lived with her boyfriend Nathan Hightman. Irene is originally from Kenya, but she moved to the United States in 2019 to pursue a nursing degree. Her parents remained in Kenya, and Irene stayed in touch with them via video chat on a regular basis. Irene was also frequently in touch with her two brothers, who live in Idaho. 

Irene had her last video chat with her parents on February 24th, 2022. Her parents continued to receive text messages from her phone via WhatsApp until March 9th. However, according to Irene's parents, the texts were not written in her usual texting style. It appeared that someone had used an online translator to send the messages in Irene's home language. Eventually, Irene's loved ones stopped receiving those messages too.

Irene shared a cell phone plan with her brothers in Idaho. After her brothers were unable to get ahold of her, they looked at her phone records and spoke to one of her close friends. It was then that they realized that Irene was back together with her boyfriend, Nathan, whom she had met on Craigslist and had been off-and-on with since 2020. Irene's brothers also learned that Irene had actually moved in with Nathan - which was a fact that no one in her family had known.

As such, suspicions began to build against Nathan - who had not reported Irene's disappearance, nor had he reached out to anyone to say that she was missing. Irene's brothers finally filed a missing person's report on March 20th, 2022.

Police questioned Nathan, who said that Irene had left their home in late February and never returned. He said that she packed up her belongings and then left in a dark-colored SUV. Further than that, Nathan has been uncooperative with the investigation. He is considered a person of interest in the case. 

Investigators later learned that Nathan had accessed Irene's bank accounts and credit cards after she vanished. In May 2022, Nathan was arrested and charged with "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 [Irene's] banking account password and deleting her email account after she vanished." He claims he did all of these things so that Irene would be forced to contact him if she needed money. As of today, Nathan has not been charged with anything else related to Irene's disappearance.


UPDATE (March 2023): Nathan Hightman has pleaded guilty to charges related to stealing from Irene after she went missing. He admitted to stealing her money, using her credit cards, and deleting her email account after she vanished. Nathan is expected to be sentenced at a later date.

Authorities in Gillette are still investigating Irene's disappearance. In May 2022, it was announced that detectives are "asking the public for any information concerning a gray or silver-colored Subaru Crosstrek with Idaho license plates which may have been seen trespassing on private property or appearing out of place in rural areas of Campbell County between February 24, 2022 and March 20, 2022."

Irene remains missing today. If you have any information that could lead to her whereabouts, please contact the Gillette Police Department at 307-682-5155.

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