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Two years later, women still searching for missing sister Florence Okpealuk in Nome, Alaska

The 33-year-old was last seen on West Beach.

While the Dateline team was in Nome, Alaska this summer for an all-new two-hour episode airing on Friday, October 14, we met a woman named Blaire Okpealuk.

Blaire worked as a receptionist at our hotel. When we told her why we were in Nome, she told us the story of her younger sister Florence’s disappearance.

Over the course of Dateline’s reporting in Nome, we learned more about Florence’s case.

Her missing poster can be seen all around the city. It has been more than two years since Blaire last saw her sister and to this day, she is still looking for answers.

“It has had a hard impact on my family emotionally, mentally, physically,” Blaire told Dateline. “Her daughter’s growing up without a mom. And I believe we need justice -- because something had happened to her.”

On August 31, 2020, 33-year-old Florence Okpealuk was last seen on West Beach in Nome, Alaska at about 4:00 p.m. Florence’s younger sister, Alexandria Okpealuk, said it was unlike her to disappear or not answer her phone. When a whole day passed without hearing from her, Blaire and Alex said they began to worry. The Nome Police Department says Florence was reported missing on August 31, 2020, at 6:15 p.m.

Florence, Alexandria and Blaire.
Florence, Alexandria and Blaire.Blaire Okpealuk

Blaire told Dateline that she and Florence are from an Alaska Native village 100 miles northwest of Nome called Wales. The Okpealuks are Inupiaq. Florence, the second youngest in a family of six children, was known as “Flo” to her friends and “Baby Florry” to her family.

Alexandria remembers Florence getting her first women’s cutting knife -- an ulu -- when she was around 6 years old. Alex said Florence was the only one out of all the girls in the family with the self-discipline and dedication to learning about traditional ways of life.

Florence moved to Nome in 2013 while she was pregnant, in the hope of providing her daughter with better healthcare and schooling than she would have gotten in Wales. Florence worked at the Norton Sound Health Corporation and was passionate about caring for others. Blaire said that although life in Nome was better for Florence’s family, her sister struggled with alcohol. Blaire said she urged Florence to get help.

Florence and her daughter.
Florence and her daughter.Blaire Okpealuk

Blaire told Dateline she last saw Florence on August 29, 2020. They argued over Florence’s drinking, a conversation Blaire looks back on now with pain and heartbreak.

“It wasn’t a very good conversation,” Blaire said. “I was just scolding her about her drinking and what she was losing in life.”

After two days went by without seeing or hearing from Florence, Blaire said she went looking for her at the bars along Front Street. All of the bars in Nome line Front Street, making it a regular spot for Florence.

She searched along the seawall and called friends and family. Blaire said a bartender told her he heard Florence had headed for West Beach, about a mile or two outside of Nome, to continue partying with a gold miner. According to Blaire, gold miners are known to camp on West Beach during the summer.

For Alexandria, it was too painful to search. She told Dateline, “It was one of the scariest, hardest things I ever had to do and I couldn’t do it for very long.”

Blaire said she and one of her brothers began their own investigation, going door-to-door at each tent asking if anyone had seen Florence

She said a witness told her that he saw Florence leaving a tent at 4:00 p.m. on August 31. Blaire also told Dateline that she was given Florence’s shoes, socks, and jacket. Blaire said she looked for Florence from daylight until dark and continued searching the beach for eight months.

Over the course of the last two years, the Nome Police Department has enlisted the help of several agencies, including the Alaska State Troopers and the FBI. The Nome Police Department told Dateline they cannot comment on the details of the case at this time as the investigation is still ongoing.

According to Blaire, Florence was a very direct and honest person. “She got right to the point with everything and when she needed to get something done, she would do it,” Blaire said. Florence took care of her family and always made sure everyone else was OK. Blaire told Dateline her sister was a great cook and could make anything from scratch. She also described her sister as a wonderful mother, who enjoyed passing on Native Alaska traditions to her daughter, like salmonberry picking and subsistence living. Florence’s daughter, who just turned 9, is currently living with her father.

Florence's daughter.
Florence's daughter.Blaire Okpealuk

“We do things that her mom still used to do. We go out berry picking. We go for walks. She puts away food with my mom,” Blaire said. “And we talk good things to her about her mom like what her mom used to be and what her mom used to be like. What she used to do for her. She doesn’t forget her mom. She remembers her mom very well, you know? They were very close. They did everything together.”

Over the course of the investigation, the Nome Police Department, FBI, Alaska State Troopers, the Nome Volunteer Fire Department Search and Rescue Team, and the U.S. Coast Guard have all conducted searches for Florence. According to Nome PD, search efforts have included mini-submarines, helicopters, and private citizens. Nome PD said they conducted a search with cadaver dogs within the past month.

“I’m afraid to know what happened to her and how it happened,” Alexandria said. “But I would like to give her a proper burial. And if somebody had done something to her, I would like justice.”

Florence is 5’2” and 142 lbs., with black hair and black eyes. She has no scars, marks, or tattoos. It is unknown what she was last seen wearing and which direction she was headed in after she left the tent on that beach. She would be 35 years old today.

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Florence Okpealuk is asked to call the Nome Police Department at 907-443-5262 and reference case number 20-010717.