(NewsNation) — Desperate to find missing newcomer Irene Gakwa, the Gillette, Wyoming, community has showed up with searches covering hundreds of miles. The search is being led by volunteer Stacy Koester.
Gakwa’s fiancé, Nathan Hightman, a person of interest in the case, sought a protective order against Koester. They squared off in court Thursday with the judge ultimately ruling in favor of Koester. How did the lead searcher end up here?
Social media posts by Koester about the search for Gakwa raised the ire of Hightman, resulting in him pushing for a protective order.
“I think he is worried that we’re closing in on him by sharing Irene’s story so much,” Koester said.
In court Thursday, the judge addressed Hightman, saying, “I can’t find that, sir, you met your burden of proof to prove that an act of stalking occurred in this case.”
Koester hopes the judge’s decision will give the community a better chance at finding Gakwa. Vindicated, she will be back out searching and sharing her opinions of Hightman on TikTok once again, all in the hopes of finding Gakwa or her body.
“I am searching for his missing fiancée, because I made a promise to Irene’s family, who is my family now, that I won’t stop searching until we bring her home and she has answers,” Koester said.
Gakwa, 32, is a recent immigrant from Kenya who lived with family in Idaho before moving to Wyoming with Hightman, who she reportedly met on Craigslist.
Her family grew concerned when they noticed Gakwa’s text messages had changed from a mixture of English and Swahili to solely English. They reported her missing in March.
Hightman told police that Gakwa packed clothing into two plastic bags and announced that she was leaving Gillette, Wyoming. He said she entered a dark-colored SUV and left the area.
Soon after that, police arrested Hightman and charged him with draining Gakwa’s bank accounts, deleting her email account and using her credit card at Walmart to buy a shovel, a pair of boots and a pair of pants. Police report that Hightman said he did it to force her to contact him in the event she needed money.
Hightman entered not guilty pleas to the charges he used Gakwa’s bank account and credit card.
Anyone with information on the case is urged to call the Gillette Police Department at 307-682-5155.