Weekend search taking place for missing Nome woman

Family, friends and supporting agencies face different challenges in hunt for Florence Okpealuk
Florence Okpealuk, of Nome, in an undated photo.
Florence Okpealuk, of Nome, in an undated photo.(KTUU)
Published: Oct. 9, 2020 at 8:26 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - More than a month after she disappeared, the search for Florence Okpealuk is again kicking into high gear, this time with a planned community effort featuring several search dog teams.

As friends, family and community members hold out hope that Florence will be brought home, the upcoming search will again focus on West Beach in Nome, in and around where the 33-year-old mother disappeared in late August.

“This is day 39,” said Billi Jean Miller, a friend of the Okpealuk family. “Every day feels like a lifetime when we’re looking for her.”

Miller, who said she grew up playing basketball with Okpealuk, reflected on the woman she remembers as sweet, funny and caring.

“She was always very kind to me,” Miller said. “She had a warm energy, always greeted me with a smile, a very warm hello.”

Okpealuk was last known to be around West Beach when she was reported missing on Aug. 31. Miller, like other friends and family members of Okpealuk, is struggling with Okpealuk’s disappearance and wants the mother of one to return home to their tight-knit community.

“Flo’s sister would like people to keep praying, and holding on to hope that she is found soon,” she added.

Several searches have taken place near where Okpealuk was last seen, with another organized effort happening this weekend. The mission has been a challenge for everyone involved, however, including some of the agencies involved in the search.

“The beach itself is very windy, with fairly rough surf,” said Federal Bureau of Investigation Anchorage Supervisory Special Agent William Walton, “and when you move inland, you’re transitioning to a variety of different environments.”

While the FBI, Alaska State Troopers and many other groups have assisted in the search for Okpealuk, Nome Search and Rescue and the Nome Police Department are the groups leading the efforts in finding her. They’re also employing specialized techniques outside of physical searches, such as analyses based on behaviors of lost or stressed individuals.

“This examines the environment and different stressors that may have been a factor of her disappearance,” said FBI Anchorage’s Chloe Martin. “That analysis is based on data historical missing person data and in cases similar to that of Florence’s disappearance.”

This weekend, with several groups joining in to help, the hope is that another search will turn up something.

“Collectively, it just shows that all of Alaska — we really care about our people,” Miller said. "Flo wasn’t just ‘somebody.’ She is an Indigenous woman. She matters. She has a family, she has a daughter and people that love her. She loved people. She’s one of us, and we want her home.”

Miller also said Okpealuk’s family is grateful for the support in searches and other efforts.

Nome Police have asked that people please avoid the area in and around West Best from Friday through Sunday.

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