The family of a missing woman is appealing for information about her loved one six months after she disappeared.
Irene Gawka, 32, was last seen by her family during a video call on Feb. 24, family members told CNN in an interview. Ms Gawka, who had moved from Kenya to the US in 2019 to pursue a career in healthcare, lived with her boyfriend Nathan Hightman, 39, in Gillette, Wyoming.
Gillette police said that after Ms. Gawka disappeared, Mr. Hightman withdrew more than $3,000 from Ms. Gakwa’s bank account and charged another $3,230 to her credit card. He allegedly told authorities that Ms Gawka had left alone and that he had taken the money from her account to force her to return.
Law enforcement also seized a pair of boots and a shovel that Mr. Hightman bought with Ms. Gawka’s card. Mr. Hightman, whom Ms. Gawka met on Craigslist, was listed as a person of interest in her disappearance and charged with two felony counts of theft and illegal use of a credit card.
Speaking to CNN, Ms Gawka’s father and brother recounted their last exchanges with her on the phone and spoke of the uncertainty they face as days pass with no word on her whereabouts.
“He was supposed to come home for Christmas this year. I would buy that ticket myself for her to come if she couldn’t afford it,” Francis Campo, Ms Gawka’s father, told the network. “Now I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again.”
During their last video call together, Ms. Gawka appeared exhausted, her father said. Mr Campo reportedly advised her to drink “warm milk and relax” and his daughter was never heard from again.
Mr Campo, who did not know his daughter was living with Heitman, said he received strange messages from her WhatsApp account. In one of them, his daughter told him that she dropped her phone in the water and the microphone was not working.
In early March, unusual messages were sent from Ms. Gawka’s phone about moving to Texas, the family said on its website whereisIrene.com.
The messages, Wainaina’s brother told CNN, were not in her native language. Ms. Gawka’s siblings, who live in Meridian, Idaho, then decided to access her phone records and discovered that her phone was last active in Gillette on March 4.
The phone account was deleted on March 10 before her family filed a missing person’s report on March 20. According to Univision, neighbors told police they saw Mr. Heitman burning a 55-gallon drum he had bought on the day of Ms. Gawka’s last video call with her parents on February 24.
Since then, Ms Gawka’s parents and siblings have pleaded with the Gilette community to join the investigation. During one of the many search parties organized by her siblings, Ms. Gawka’s neighbors called out, “Nate, where’s Irene?” outside Mr. Heitman’s house.
Heitman was briefly arrested in May and charged with financial crimes. He has since been released and is considered a person of interest.
Gillette police told CNN they are not cooperating with the investigation. The independent reached out to the department for comment.