Vigil and search for missing Gillette woman to be held this weekend

624473bb1e62eimageGILLETTE, W.Y. – A silent vigil, feet on the ground search, and peaceful protest will take place this weekend for Gillette resident Irene Gakwa, 32 who went missing in March.

Gakwa was reported missing on March 20 and was last heard from on March 4, under unusual circumstances.

She is Kenyan, a black female, approximately 5’1″, 89 pounds with brown eyes and black hair. A website regarding her case can be found here.

A tip to the Gillette Police Department indicated Gakwa may have been taken to a rural area, mine site, or oil and gas location between Feb. 24 and March 20 in a passenger car or crossover SUV, according to a Gillette Police Department press release. The police are also looking for a 55-gallon metal drum.

Detectives at the Gillette Police Department are following a number of other leads and continue to ask for the public’s help in finding Gakwa. Anyone with information about suspicious activity in remote areas, or any other information related to Gakwa’s disappearance, no matter how insignificant they believe it may be, should notify the Gillette Police Department at 307-682-5155.

According to a Gillette Police Department, press release detectives have interviewed Gakwa’s friends and associates and have executed about two dozen search warrants in efforts to find her, according to the press release. Digital evidence, including location data, is also being analyzed and has provided positive leads.

Gakwa is the first of two foreign females to go missing in Gillette, Wyo. within three months. Ukrainian Valeriia ‘Lera’ Nudha, 15, was reported missing, June 14. She was found June 20, in New Jersey.

The candlelight vigil will be held Friday, July 1, from 8-10 p.m. at Lasting Legacy Park in Gillette. Saturday, a feet-on-the-ground search will be held starting at 7 a.m. Anyone wanting to help search for Gakwa can meet at the Sinclair station at the bottom of Gurley Overpass. Saturday night, a peaceful protest will be held at 7 p.m. in front of Irene’s home on Pathfinder Circle. Those attending are asked to meet and park on Enterprise Drive to walk over as a group.

Irene Gakwa’s Story:

Gakwa, moved to Boise, Idaho in May of 2019 from Kenya seeking a new life and to pursue a degree in nursing. She joined her two brothers, Kennedy Wainaina and Chris Gakwa, who had previously settled there.

She met Nathan J. Hightman online and shortly after they decided to move in together. The couple lived together in Idaho for about a year and a half before moving to Gillette, Wyo. in July 2021, where Gakwa continued her studies in nursing while working.

On February 24, Irene spoke with her parents in Kenya via video call on WhatsApp. The video call was the last time her parents have seen or heard from Irene.

“We are a very close family, and, I mean, of course, Irene is very close to her dad in Kenya. And she usually video calls, every other day. The last video call was on February 24th And then afterwards, there were no video calls, but just text messages And for us, you know, the family that live here in Idaho we text her regularly and she calls my kids every week or so,” said Joyce Gee-Gakwa, Irene’s sister in law.

The text messages the family received after the February video call didn’t sound like Irene at all, said Gee-Gakwa.  They weren’t in her native language and “were not very convincing,” and then the text messages just stopped coming. The last text message the family received was on March 4.

Her brother Kennedy Wainaina reported her missing on March 20, 2022.

“We called the police in Gillette to go to the house and check on her. We also did call her boyfriend, Nathan, who she lived with and he just said Irene packed and left,” said Gee-Gakwa.

Hightman, told her family that she was tired of Gillette she packed her clothing in two garbage bags and left in a dark SUV.

According to investigators, Hightman has been uncooperative in her case, reports in an April 12, Gillette Police Department press release. “He has not made himself available to detectives looking to resolve questions that exist in the investigation,” the press release states. He is currently considered a person of interest in her disappearance.

“We believe that Nathan knows more than he telling the police and we don’t want to assume anything. We just want Irene back home with us,” said Gee-Gakwa.

Their investigation lead to Hightman’s arrest on May 10, 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. Irene Gakwa is the victim of these crimes. A search of Irene’s phone showed that her WhatsApp account was deleted on March 8 and her phone number deleted on March 10.

“It doesn’t make any sense to us. First off, if I got up and left I would expect that my husband will find out where I went or try to get in contact with my relatives to figure out if I went to any of my relatives  and then come to find out it was sending him money,” said Gee-Gakwa.

Hightman admitted to police that he had accessed Irene’s bank accounts and removed the money, saying he did so to force her to contact him but said he has not heard from her since she left.
“Nathan used some of Irene’s money to buy a shovel and some boots. So they’re testing the soil on the shovel and the boots, we are waiting for results on that. So it’s like everything is a process and it takes time for things to come back. We’re just waiting,” said Gee-Gakwa.
Following additional leads at this time the May 10, press release states that the Gillette Police Department is 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, and March 20.
They are also requesting information regarding the possibility of a 55-gallon metal drum, which may have been burned and/or abandoned within the county.
“One of the things that the police is looking for is a 55 gallon drum. Nathan bought one February 24th and Nathan burnt it, but we don’t know where it is. So the police are looking for that. The feet on the ground search is to come and start looking for it,” said Gee-Gakwa.
Hightman made his first court appearance on May 11, where bail was set at $10,000. On May 31, he pleaded not guilty to all five felony charges.
“I’m just trying to hold on to hope. We appreciate all the tips that are coming in. No tip is a waste of time. If it’s a suspicion, just call the police,” said Gee-Gakwa.
Categories: Crime, Local News, Wyoming News