From Murder to Recovery: Gambell Woman Recounts Family's Battle with Alcohol Abuse (KTVA.com exclusive)
Pamela Apangalook seeks closure at site of her uncle’s death, after her own fight with alcoholism
Click on the video at left to see Pamela Apangalook's first visit to the site of her uncle's murder.
ANCHORAGE - With every step she took, Pamela Apangalook travelled a little closer to emotional restoration.
“I’m a little nervous,” she said, stepping carefully through the loose snow on the side of the road Wednesday afternoon. She wore brown snow boots and her feet were heavy as she walked north along Eagle Street, crossing the intersection at Third Avenue and finally came to a stop on a hill overlooking Ship Creek, where the road curved down to meet the railroad tracks.
The sky was a brilliant blue, but Apangalook said she carried a cloud with her: This was the place her uncle, Michael Apangalook, had been found dead after a night of drinking in a homeless camp nearly two years ago.
Police had ruled the death a homicide, but no suspect had been identified in the case and Apangalook, 39, said she still sought closure in her uncle’s murder.
Wednesday marked her first visit to the woods where he died, and she said she had not even attended his funeral. Instead, she had been bound to a newly issued ankle monitor, finding her own closure after a twenty-year battle with alcohol addiction.
Her addiction reached its breaking point four years ago, when she found herself facing felony robbery and assault charges after a six-day drinking binge. After a stint at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center and nine months of near-daily counseling, Apangalook was released on a strict probation.
“The first day they allowed me to call my family, I called every single one of my family members and they accepted me back,” she said, recalling her last great reunion. Now, standing in the sun overlooking the snowy sloping Ship Creek hill, Apangalook said she was looking for a different kind of reconciliation.
“I feel a lot of guilt, a lot of guilt,” she said, voice heavy. She wore a purple North Face parka and shrugged her shoulders against the mid-afternoon sun. “I would go to his home and I would bring alcohol, and he wasn’t supposed to drink, and I feel like, in a way, I’m responsible for getting him started again.”
The tears broke through and she choked up, covering her mouth with her hand and looking out over the trees. It wasn’t like this at first, she said.
Growing up on St. Lawrence Island with her five siblings, Apangalook recalled a school named after her uncle and a simpler life with her family around her. Her uncle lived there too, and she smiled at the memory and said he was like a second father to her.
Things changed when they began drinking the bottles of bootlegged liquor sold for as much as $250 in the dry village of Gambell. Apanglaook said it brought violence to the community and chipped away at relationships.
“My oldest daughter, she was taken from me because I didn’t stop,” she said, brushing a strand of long, chestnut brown hair out of her eyes and recalling her earliest struggles with alcohol. Apangalook said her three daughters, now 22, 19 and 14, had been witnesses to her addiction on and off throughout their lives.