Friends and family wait for answers in disappearance of Nome woman

Florence Okpealuk of Nome. (Nome Police Department, used with permission)

Her name is Florence, but friends call her Flo. It’s hard for Lucille Weyapuk to pick just three words to describe her friend.

“Humorous, you know … sophisticated, encouraging, loving, friendly, gosh! You name it!“

Weyapuk and Okpealuk grew up in Wales as close friends, and they’re 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 Weyapuk 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 perspective.

“Growing up she was stubborn, but she was always organized and responsible.”

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 Flo was living in an apartment with her boyfriend. She says Flo was struggling with alcoholism and had some recent criminal charges, her first serious legal trouble. Blaire says that was something that gave her sister anxiety.

Throughout those challenges, Flo kept her focus on her little girl, her sister says. And she continued to share childcare with her daughter’s father.

“She was pretty active with her daughter,” Blaire said. “She brought her daughter to community events or participated in activities for her daughter.”

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.”

A dispatch from the Alaska State Troopers says Okpealuk was last seen Aug. 30 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 short-term spaces.

Searchers go out every day to look for Okpealuk, and the community held a prayer vigil Sept. 12th at Old St. Joseph’s park. It offered some relief for Blaire.

“I think it was hopeful and it was reassuring,” she said.

Law enforcement has not said they have any leads in the investigation. Meanwhile, friends and family around the state wait for answers.

Anyone with any information about the disappearance or possible whereabouts of Florence Okpealuk can call Nome Police Department at 443-5262. Callers can remain anonymous.

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