Irene Gakwa

MISSING BLACK WOMEN: Where is Irene Gakwa? Nursing Student Still Missing After Boyfriend Arrested

It’s been nearly a year since Irene Gakwa last spoke with her parents and siblings, the quietness of each passing day a piercing reminder of her absence.

“We can hardly sleep and when we sleep, we keep waking up and it’s like dreaming,” Francis Gakwa, Irene’s father, told PEOPLE magazine as he cried.

In 2019, when she was 32 years old, Irene moved from Kenya to Boise, Idaho, to study nursing at the College of Western Idaho.

Despite being more than 9,000 miles away from her native Nairobi, Irene had loved ones close by. Her older brothers and their families also lived in Boise, and she would regularly spend time with them.

But that began to change in 2020 when Irene started dating Nathan Hightman, whom her brothers described as “controlling,” according to PEOPLE.

Irene attended fewer and fewer family gatherings, and despite speaking with her mom and dad every day, she stopped communicating with them on February 24, 2022.

It was also around this time that Irene’s brothers began receiving text messages from her phone number that seemed unusual. In early March 2022, the brothers concluded that the text messages appeared to be coming from Gillette, Wyoming, nearly 700 miles away, where Hightman lived.

Hightman allegedly claimed that Irene “took a couple of trash bags with her and got into a dark SUV and left,” one of the brothers, Kennedy Wainaina, told PEOPLE.

He added: “All her social media was deleted. Her friends hadn’t heard from her. All of us were freaking out.”

After not hearing from their little sister for nearly a month, the brothers reported Irene missing on March 20, 2022, according to ABC News.

By May, police arrested Hightman on charges of felony theft, crimes against intellectual property, and unlawful use of a credit card. Authorities alleged that he deleted Irene’s email account, transferred about $3,700 from her bank account, and used her credit card after she went missing.

Hightman has pleaded not guilty to the charges and he is free on $10,000 bail, awaiting a trial scheduled for April, according to the Gillette News Record. Police have described him as a “person of interest” in Irene’s disappearance, but he has not been charged in connection with the missing person investigation.

One exchange with the couple sheds light on their relationship. Dusty Martin, who owns a car dealership in Gillette, told ABC News that Irene sold her Acura to him in January 2022.

“The whole encounter was very odd,” Martin told the news outlet. “Nathan was an odd character and I thought it was weird because Irene had to okay everything with him. Every move she made, she had to look at him.”

Meanwhile, Irene’s parents are left wondering what may have happened to their precious daughter. Not knowing anything, Francis told PEOPLE, “is unbearable.”

Police have said they were examining information about a 55-gallon metal drum that may have been burned or abandoned. Investigators recovered boots and a shovel that Hightman allegedly bought at Walmart in February 2022 with Irene’s card, CNN reports.

Investigators are also asking the public for information about a silver or gray Subaru Crosstrek with Idaho license plates registered to Hightman that might have intruded on private property between February 24 and March 20.

Family and friends are doing everything they can to raise awareness about Irene’s disappearance, including launching a website, posting on TikTok and creating a GoFundMe account to help establish a reward for tips.

To report information about the case, call the Gillette Police Department at 307-682-5155.

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[Feature Photo: Facebook]