Her name is Florence, but friends call her “Flo”.
Florence Okpealuk, 33, went missing in Nome at the end of August. Lucille Weyapuk couldn’t pick just three words to describe her friend.
“Humorous, you know… sophisticated, encouraging, loving, friendly, gosh! You name it!” said Weyapuk.
Weyapuk and Okpealuk grew up in Wales as close friends and they are 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,” she said.
Lucille Weypauk 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 perception of her sister.
“Growing up she was stubborn but she was always organized and responsible,” Blaire said.
Flo is the second youngest of seven siblings. Blaire says they’ve had their share of tragedy as a family too, losing their father in 1998. She says it affected the family.
“It seems as though we were almost forced to grow up fast,” Blaire said.
Flo Okpealuk 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 that Flo was living in an apartment with her boyfriend. Flo was struggling with alcoholism, her sister said. Flo had some recent criminal charges, her first serious legal trouble. Blaire said that was something that gave her sister anxiety.
Throughout all of those challenges, Flo kept her focus on her little girl, her sister said. Flo continued to share childcare with her daughter’s father
“She was pretty active with her daughter. She brought her daughter to community events or participated in activities for her daughter,” Blaire said.
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,” said Blaire.
The dispatch from the Alaska State Troopers says that Okpealuk was last seen 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 a short-term space.
Searchers go out every day to look for Okpealuk. The community held a prayer vigil Sept 12 outside of Old St. Joseph’s park. It offered some relief for Blaire.
“I think it was hopeful and it was reassuring,” Blaire said.
Law enforcement has not released any leads about the investigation. Meanwhile, friends and family around the state wait for answers.