The Nome community sprang into action on August 30, when 33-year-old Florence Okpealuk disappeared.
Like many in the area, Billie Jean Miller of Nome was heartbroken to see the report that she was missing. They played basketball together as girls and Okpealuk, who is a few years older than Miller, became a trusted friend off the basketball court.
“I used to go to her for advice here and there and she was always so kind and open with her space and her energy. Anytime something came up she was always very positive. She was always a light and always a beacon every time we saw her,” Miller said.
It began with five women messaging each other, brainstorming ways they could help and organize search efforts. Now, it’s grown to include dozens of Indigenous women.
The women help in different ways: Some are foot searchers. Others stay home to baby-sit and cook so more people can search. Nome ultrarunners Carol Seppilu and Tim Lemaire postponed a local run to search.
With the Alaska State Troopers, Coast Guard, and Nome Search and Rescue actively searching the beach where she was last seen, the women’s group decided to search other parts of town to help cover more ground.
“We’ve had women checking abandoned cars around town and in and out of the junkyard. We’ve been searching abandoned houses. We’ve walked the tundra,“ Miller said.
At the time this piece was written, Okpealuk had been missing for more than ten days.
Image at top: Community members and first responders have come together to search for Florence Okpealuk.