‘This community is hurting’: Law enforcement, volunteers continue search efforts for Florence Okpealuk

Nome police say efforts are being put forth daily to find the mom of one
Florence Okpealuk, 33, in an undated photo.
Florence Okpealuk, 33, in an undated photo.(KTUU)
Published: Oct. 16, 2020 at 8:10 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A month and a half after she disappeared, friends, family and the community of Nome are still reeling after Florence Okpealuk, 33, who went missing from a western Alaska beach in the city.

Nome Chief of Police Mike Heintzelman said Friday that a range of tactics is being used to find Okpealuk, including conducting hundreds of interviews; specialized search methods, such as underwater sonar and low flight observations; and multiple agencies being employed to further assist.

“He deployed all resources we could even think of,” Heintzelman said of his deputy chief, Robert Pruckner, who was at the helm when Okpealuk disappeared as the chief was on leave, “to try and find Flo at this particular time.”

The Nome Police Department is leading the charge in the search for Okpealuk, who was reported missing on Aug. 31. The department said Friday that efforts to find the mother of one, recently described as having a warm energy and infectious smile, are ongoing and have been every day since she went missing.

Pruckner said the first step after hearing Okpealuk had gone missing was to begin employing the department’s missing persons protocol, starting with looking at places where Okpealuk was known to have recently been.

“We began looking around the city of Nome for places we knew she’d been before,” he said, “as far as locations in town, friends, family, stuff like that. We also contacted AST to make them aware of the situation, and also to check those areas that were outside city limits.”

Search and rescue was also notified, Pruckner said, and by the next morning, several searches were already underway. When Okpealuk wasn’t found during those gatherings, the search was expanded to include more area and more agencies across Alaska, such as the U.S. Coast Guard and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Helicopters, planes, boats, dogs, underwater drones and ground searches on foot and in various vehicles have all been part of the multi-pronged effort to find her.

“We are a small agency up here in Nome,” he said, “and we have everybody working on it.”

Two investigators within the Nome Police Department remain on the case full time.

“Investigators are still on it every day," Pruckner said. "This case is very, very important to all of us here at the police department, but also this community. This community is hurting without this young lady, and we’re doing all we can to locate her.”

FBI Anchorage Special Agent in Charge Robert Britt said in an address this week that, along with other resources, the agency had half a dozen agents in Nome to assist with the search for Okpealuk. Part of their response included analyzing cell phone data to try and recreate her movements early on in the search.

“The Nome PD viewed the search for Florence as an all-hands-on-deck operation,” he said. "The Nome PD’s rapid request for assistance allowed us to be engaged early on.”

Not knowing for sure where Okpealuk is right now has been tough on everyone involved, Pruckner said.

If you have any information about Okpealuk or her case, law enforcement is asking that you please get that information to dispatchers in Nome as soon as possible.

“Any tip that’s given to us is followed up on,” Pruckner said, “and we will continue to do that.”

The number for Nome dispatch is (907) 443-5262. Callers can remain anonymous.

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