Florence Okpealuk, a 33-year-old Nome woman, went missing at the end of August. Since then, the community, police and the FBI have been looking for clues about her disappearance. KNOM’s Emily Hofstaedter reports on Okpealuk’s life before she went missing.
Her name is Florence, but friends call her “Flo”. It’s hard for Lucille Weyapuk to pick just three words to describe her friend Flo.
“Humorous, you know… sophisticated, encouraging, loving, friendly, gosh! You name it!“– Lucille Weyapuk
Weyapuk and Okpealuk grew up in Wales as close friends and they are distant cousins, but Weyapuk gets a bit lost figuring out the family tree.
“We’re pretty close because she’s named after my mom. Ever since she was a little girl she’s always baked goodies for my dad and for all of us siblings. She probably started doing that when she was five or six.”
Lucille Weypauk lives in Anchorage now, where the two women last visited in March. When Okpealuk came through town for medical treatment, she would always give Weyapuk a call.
Flo’s older sister Madeleine Blaire Okpealuk, who goes by Blaire, has a different perception of her sister.
“Growing up she was stubborn but she was always organized and responsible.”– Blaire Okpealuk
Flo is the second youngest of seven siblings. Blaire says they’ve had their share of tragedy as a family too.
“We lost our Dad in 1998. It seems as though we were almost forced to grow up fast.”
Flo is the mother of a six-year-old girl. On social media, she posted dozens of pictures with her daughter. Flo wears square-rimmed glasses and her face is framed by long black hair. The mother and daughter sport matching smiles and sometimes even t-shirts.
At the time she was last seen, Blaire believes that Flo was living in an apartment with her boyfriend. Her sister says Flo was struggling with alcoholism. Flo had some recent criminal charges, her first serious legal trouble. Blaire says that was something that gave her sister anxiety.
Throughout all of those challenges, Flo kept her focus on her little girl, her sister says. Flo continued to share childcare with her daughter’s father.
“She was pretty active with her daughter. She brought her daughter to community events or participated in activities for her daughter.”– Blaire Okpealuk
It was a big red flag when Flo dropped out of sight. She always kept in touch with family. When Blaire got a call from Flo’s boyfriend she immediately went looking.
“I started at all of the bars, in town, people.”
The dispatch from the Alaska State Troopers says that Okpealuk was last seen on Nome’s West Beach, about 1-2 miles out of town, leaving a tent. She reportedly left a jacket and shoes outside. Tents are a normal sight on Nome’s West Beach during the summer as miners and other temporary residents set up a short-term space.
Searchers go out every day to look for Okpealuk. The community held a prayer vigil Sept 12th outside of Old St. Joseph’s park. It offered some relief for Blaire.
“I think it was hopeful and it was reassuring.”– Blaire Okpealuk
Law enforcement has not released any leads about the investigation. Meanwhile, friends and family around the state wait for answers.
Anyone with any information regarding the disappearance or possible whereabouts of Florence Okpealuk can call Nome Police Department at 443-5262. Callers can remain anonymous.
Image at Top: Police are searching for missing woman Florence Okpealuk of Nome. Photo from NPD, 2020.