Ukrainian girl, 15, missing from Gillette
GILLETTE, WYO. – The family of an adopted Ukrainian girl missing from Gillette is asking for the public’s help in locating her.
Valeriia ‘Lera’ Nudha, 15, was last seen at her home in Gillette Tuesday, June 14th at approximately 1:30 p.m.
She was adopted from a Ukrainian orphanage by Bethany and Nik Wight of Gillette in November 2021. She has only been in the country for less than six months and speaks only rudimentary English.
Her adoptive mother was taking a nap after lunch when she woke up to the neighbors knocking on her door. They had found Lera’s phone while out walking. After searching the house, finding that she had changed her clothes, and checking their home’s security system they notified the Gillette Police Department.
Wight said that Lera’s phone was very important to her. It was her connection to her family and friends in the Ukraine.
“We had parenting apps on her phone that would tell us, you know, where her phone is. And so most likely she knew about that or she was coached to get rid of her phone. We think it’s a little bit odd why she would just ditch the phone since she loved it so much,” said Bethany Wight. “She’s very, very attached to social media. And so for her to be without a phone, I’m sure she’s really not doing great with that. And I can’t imagine that she would stay away for too terribly long unless somebody was keeping her from it.”
The Wights also had the Bark Parental Control app on Lera’s phone to alert them of signs of cyberbullying, depression, and online predators. Unfortunately, the app does not detect the Russian language. She has many social media accounts under a variety of different names and was also on Russian social media sites which further broaden the investigation.
Lera left a note for her parents in English saying that “she had run away and would return when she was ready,” which her adoptive parents found unusual because she does not speak English well enough to write the note.
The Wights found the note Tuesday night and said that it expressed a lot of her frustration about things and feeling overwhelmed about adjusting to a new life in a new country.
“The things she brought up in the note were trivial like, you didn’t buy me perfume, when you know those are things that we would have been able to talk about in counseling and work through,” said Nik Wight. “We feel like there’s maybe someone that kind of coached her to write the note.”
“She definitely needed a translator to help write it because there’s no way she could have written it on her own,” said Bethany Wight.
Her family is very concerned for her safety and a possible child trafficking situation. Based on conversations with friends of Lera’s she is likely with an older teen or Russian-speaking man who she met online.
“The day after she ran away one of her best friends here in town who was adopted around the same time and was also from the Ukraine, shared with us that Lera had blocked everyone in her circle, even her best friend. Everything was completely blocked on social media. So I found some roundabout ways to hack into some of her accounts, which she had just abandoned. So we are very concerned that there’s more to this than just her being a teen runaway,” said Nik Wight.
While living at a Ukrainian orphanage for four years before being adopted, Lera had issues with running away and potential trafficking situations. She also previously ran away from the Wight home on April 2nd.
“We knew she was not just going for a walk this time. Her attitude had like just drastically changed over the last two weeks,” said Bethany Wight. “The attachment process was happening even though it was slow but it was happening. And then all of a sudden she started pulling away again. I wouldn’t have ever guessed that it would be this severe this time.”
Lera has long dark brown hair, brown eyes, wears a gold nose ring, has several ear piercings, long painted nails, a small homemade orphanage heart tattoo on her right ankle, is 5’1″, and weighs 110 pounds. She also loves music and will dance almost anywhere and likes to wear black baggy clothing.
“It’s been six day as of today, and she really could be anywhere. I would hope that if she’s still in town somebody would say something at this point. We’ve had a few people that got a hold of me, you know, to say they think they maybe saw something on that first day. But it’s just better to contact the police than to me. And don’t be afraid to get involved because we need you to get involved, because if you don’t, that could mean her life,” said Bethany Wight. “I really hope that this can be a lesson for all parents, that it really is so serious when your kids talk to strangers online and you just really need to be monitoring this stuff.”
The Gillette Police Department could not make any remarks about the active investigation. Bethany Wight said that she called a nationwide human trafficking hotline that will be working with the police department more closely this week. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Gillette Police Department at (307) 682-5155.