Law enforcement officials say they have located the driver and vehicle they were looking for in connection with the disappearance of a 33-year-old Nome woman.
On Sunday, Nome police had released photos over Facebook of the vehicle. Police said the vehicle was in the area of the port early in the morning on Aug. 30, the day before Florence Okpealuk was reported missing by her family. Police said the driver “may recall observations or information which could assist the investigation” but didn’t list the driver as a suspect.
Later on Sunday, authorities reported that the vehicle and the driver had been found. Chloe Martin, a spokesperson for the FBI, speaking from Nome, said that the vehicle was found thanks to help from the public, but declined to share other details about the vehicle or driver to protect the investigation.
In a press release on NPD officials said they contacted the driver and thanked them for their assistance.
It’s the first lead the department has released to the public since the investigation began. Community members have also organized several search parties to comb areas around town where Okpealuk disappeared.
Over the weekend, community search parties were unsuccessful in locating Okpealuk, over two weeks since she went missing.
It’s the second weekend of organized search parties in Nome.
Over the weekend, the FBI joined local authorities from the Alaska State Troopers and the Nome Police Department. In a news release, Nome police said the FBI joined the search at the request of the department so that the bureau can provide “additional manpower and specialized resources” that could help with the search. The FBI had been providing technical assistance since “shortly after Ms. Okpealuk was reported missing,” according to the release.
In an email, Martin, of the FBI, wrote that Nome Police requested assistance on Sept. 3, three days after Okpealuk was reported missing.
The Nome Police Department’s outreach to the FBI was extremely fast, considering that there did not appear to be any federal nexus in the case, according to Martin.
“These rapid responsive efforts from the Nome Police Department allowed the FBI to be engaged early in their investigation, which is critical in a missing persons case,” she wrote.
Martin said that six staff from the bureau are in Nome for the investigation.
Okpealuk’s disappearance and the subsequent response has led to frustration among some Nome residents who say the police weren’t quick enough to act and haven’t been sharing information with family members.
This story has been updated with new information from the FBI and context about NPD’s outreach to the bureau.