When her face appeared on the phone screen, her dad teased her that she looked hungry and tired. Her smile was more subdued, he noted. Her short hair, usually braided, was rumpled.
“Make sure you drink hot milk and relax,” her dad said from his living room in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
That was February 24, the last time anyone in her family saw her.
A month later — less than three years after Gakwa left Kenya for the United States — her family reported her missing. At the time of the February video call, Gakwa’s parents were not aware she was living in Gillette, Wyoming, with a man she’d met on a Craigslist forum.
They also had no way of knowing that police would later accuse the man of removing money from her checking account, maxing out her credit card and deleting her email account. And they never imagined that six months would go by without a word from her.
“She’s always been a daddy’s girl,” said her father, Francis Kambo, in a recent phone interview from Nairobi. He took a deep breath as he recalled that last video call with his only daughter and youngest of his three children.
“She was supposed to come home for Christmas this year. I was going to buy that ticket myself for her to come if she couldn’t afford it,” he added, his voice shaking.
“Now I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again.”
Her worried family members span two continents
Gakwa’s worried family spans two continents 9,000 miles apart.
Her parents live in Nairobi while her two older brothers, Chris Munga and Kennedy Wainaina, live in the Idaho city of Meridian — a Boise suburb.
Her father started worrying in late February when she did not respond to repeated video calls. This was unusual for the 32-year-old, who spoke to her parents about every other day.
And her written messages sounded odd, her family said. Instead of the mix of Swahili and Kenyan slang she uses, the messages were in stilted English — like someone was using Google Translate to send them, said Wainaina, her oldest brother.
“The texts would be out of place,” her father said.
In early March — between the last video call and the day she was reported missing — her parents received some short WhatsApp messages from her account. Some made excuses for why she wasn’t doing video calls.
“Dad, I dropped my phone in the water and now the microphone doesn’t work,” one message said.
Another said, “I just want you to know I love …….