How online love ended in agony for Kenyan woman in US

Irene Gakwa

Ms Irene Gakwa (right) disappeared from Gillette in the state of Wyoming and the family suspects that her boyfriend Nathan Hightman, 38, had something to do with it. 

Photo credit: Courtesy

When Ms Irene Gakwa arrived in the United States in 2019, her mission was clear – to study.

The 32-year-old is missing and police in Gillette in the state of Wyoming are trying to unravel what happened and where she is.

She disappeared in February and her husband, identified as Mr Nathan Hightman, 38, was arrested in connection with her disappearance.

Mr Hightman was arrested on May 10 by Gillette police officers. 

The police said in a statement that Mr Hightman was not cooperating with investigators.

“Hightman has declined an interview request from the Gillette police department. Information obtained through investigation suggests that she went missing under suspicious circumstances. She was last seen in a video call made to her parents on February 24,” the police said.

The police also said she was being driven in a gray or silver-coloured Subaru Crosstrek with Idaho licence plates.

They asked members of the public to report to them if they saw the vehicle, which “has been trespassing on private property or appearing out of place since February 24”. 

“The Gillette police department is also requesting information regarding the possibility of a 55-gallon metal drum, which may have been burned and/or abandoned within the county.”

The Nation has established through inquiries to the family and the police in the US that Ms Gakwa’s relationship with Mr Hightman had soured and she had told her family members in the US about it.

Ms Gakwa and Mr Hightman allegedly met on an online dating platform and agreed to live together. They then moved from the state of Idaho to Gillette, Wyoming.

Mr Hightman allegedly used her credit cards and other information belonging to Ms Gakwa after her family had reported her missing.

Speaking to the Nation, her brother, Mr Chris Gakwa, said that the family believes that something horrible might have happened to her.

“We have reason to believe that something terrible might have happened since she instantly went silent after talking to her parents based in Kenya on February 24,” Mr Gakwa said.

He said they had received disturbing messages from her phone, which they forwarded to the police.

Court documents seen by the Nation reveal that Mr Hightman was questioned by police over his involvement in Ms Gakwa’s disappearance.

He said he has not interacted with her since she bade him goodbye before boarding an SUV.

Detectives asked him why he was in possession of her personal details, including using her email, phone and money from her bank accounts, yet they were not on good terms.

Detectives say Mr Hightman spent Ms Gakwa’s cash to purchase various items from a local supermarket and also pay bills at his home.

He had initially denied that he was in possession of the bank details and had used her money to make transactions. 

“The suspect was captured carrying the stuff from the supermarket after he paid the money using her bank details,” police told the court.

In an interview with the Nation, Mr Francis Gakwa, Ms Gakwa’s father, urged the police to speed up their investigations.

He said the details that had been made public showed that Mr Hightman knew something about her disappearance.

“If he had closed her social media accounts, he would have been using bank details that belong to my daughter. What else are we looking for?” said Mr Gakwa, who lives in Nkoroi, Kajiado County.

The family has opened a Facebook page, Find Irene Gakwa, and the public has been asked to share any information that would help the family find their relative.

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