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Nathan Hightman, 38, is accused of stealing money from his girlfriend, 32-year-old Irene Gawka


Irene Gawka would speak to her family all the time. So when her parents didn’t hear from her and had trouble reaching her, they began to worry.

“She’s always been a daddy’s girl,” her father, Francis Kambo, told CNN in a phone interview from Gawka’s native Kenya.

Gawka, 32, was living in Gilette, Wyo., after moving to the U.S. from Kenya nearly three years ago with dreams of pursuing a career as a nurse, CNN reports.

“She was supposed to come home for Christmas this year,” her father told CNN. “I was going to buy that ticket myself for her to come if she couldn’t afford it. Now I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again.”

Gawka last spoke to her parents in Kenya, on Feb. 24, 2022, the City of Gilette said in a statement.

Her brothers reported her missing on March 20, 2022.

“Information obtained through investigation suggests Irene went missing under suspicious circumstances,” the City of Gilette said in the statement from May 11, 2022.

Her parents had no idea she was living in Gilette or that she had moved in with Nathan J. Hightman, a man she met on a Craigslist forum, CNN reports.

They only learned she had been dating Hightman after her two brothers, who live in Idaho, looked through her phone records and asked a friend of hers about it, according to CNN.

When authorities began looking into her disappearance, they named Hightman as a person of interest in her missing person case, according to the City of Gilette’s statement.

He was arrested on May 10, 2022, and charged 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 for allegedly stealing from Gawka, the statement says.

Hightman allegedly withdrew money from Gakwa’s checking account, changed her passwords and deleted her email, according to an affidavit of probable cause, County 17, the Buffalo Bulletin and CNN report.

On Feb. 25, 2022, he used her credit card to buy a shovel, boots and jeans from the Gilette Walmart, the affidavit shows, according to the outlets.

He allegedly told police that he hadn’t seen Gakwa since she moved out of their house at the end of February, the affidavit says, Wyoming News,

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 County 17 and CNN report.

He allegedly said that the last time he saw her, she had packed her belongings and had said she was leaving Gillette, according to the affidavit.

He said she got into a dark-colored SUV and drove off, the affidavit says, County 17 reports.

He also allegedly told police that after Gawka left, he took money out of her bank account for the purpose of forcing her to contact him when she needed funds, the affidavit states, County 17 reports.

He allegedly transferred money from her account eight times for a total of $3,666.46, the affidavit says, County 17 reports.

On June 8, 2022, Hightman pleaded not guilty and was released on a $10,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 3. His attorney did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

In its statement on May 11, 2022, the City of Gilette noted that Hightman has “declined interview requests from the Gillette Police Department.”

Detectives continue to investigate.

They are asking the public for any information about 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, 2022 and March 20, 2022,” the statement says.

The Gillette Police Department is also requesting information about a 55-gallon metal drum, which may have been burned and/or abandoned within the county, the statement says.

In the meantime, her worried family waits for answers.

“I just want to know the truth,” her father told CNN.

“I’m still hopeful, but my hope is dwindling.”

Anyone with information related to Gawka’s disappearance “no matter how insignificant you believe it may be,” the statement says, is asked to contact the Gillette Police Department at 307-682-5155.

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