Irene Wairimu Gakwa was born in Kenya and grew up alongside her two older siblings. But, after turning 30 years old, she decided to move to the United States in May 2019 in pursuit of higher education.
So, Irene set her sights on Boise, Idaho, where her older brothers lived. And while she was focused on enrolling in nursing school, Irene still made staying in touch with her family back home a top priority.
“We used to talk on WhatsApp all the time,” recalled Francis Gakwa, Irene’s father.
In 2020, though, Irene met a man named Nathan Hightman on Craigslist. And after they started dating, they eventually started living together in Meridian. At the same time, Irene began nursing school at the College of Western Idaho.
Then, by July 2021, Irene told her brother that she and Nathan planned to move to Arizona. But things took a turn, and the pair secretly relocated to Gillette, Wyoming, instead.
After moving, Irene reportedly lived in a three-bedroom home with Nathan while attending classes at Gillette Community College.
But while Irene had always kept in close contact with her loved ones, her brothers claimed that, after she started dating Nathan, that changed.
“He seemed quiet,” Irene’s brother, Kennedy Wainaina, said of Nathan. “Didn’t say much. He told me he doesn’t really have any friends.”
Irene and Nathan also started missing out on family functions more often, and according to Kennedy, his sister’s boyfriend was “controlling.”