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
But she said they had been some of the lucky ones.
“Just last month, my cousin was found on a Saturday morning,” she said. Apangalook’s nails were painted light pink, and matched the stone on the gold ring she twisted around her finger in agitation. “She had frozen to death. They said she had been drinking.”
Her cousin left behind three children.
There there were many families like that. The 2011 Annual Drug Report released by the Department of Public Safety stated alcohol was the most widely abused and harmful drug in Alaska.
Many on St. Lawrence Island had died accidently or by their own hands after becoming tied up in drinking, and Apangalook said the ripples were often felt most strongly by the youngest members of the community.
“Things will never be the same for families with kids,” she said, shaking her head. “For my kids, I can only wonder what could have been.”
She wished she could have had a closer family or been a better mother, but said she traded it for years of something else.
“It was misery,” Apangalook said. “I lost everything. Everything.”
Even after her daughters had been taken to live with relatives, she said she had kept in contact with her uncle. Michael Apangalook suffered from schizophrenia, and she said it was later compounded by his strong propensity to drink.
It was a proclivity she shared until her arrest in early 2008. After her release from Hiland, she took her last drink on October 16, 2009. Now, she lives in an apartment near Merrill Field and works a steady job. While Apangalook said she never saw her uncle again, she’s spent the last three years reconnecting with her daughters.
She said her oldest had graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and joined the National Guard; her youngest was “still sweet” and too young to hold a grudge.
“My 19-year-old, she’s the one staying angry with me, and I don’t know what to do,” she said, choosing her words deliberately. “I think time is the only thing that will show her I’m not that person anymore. And I’m not. And I miss them.”
Apangalook’s voice cracked and she looked away, hoisting her black shoulder bag up over her arm.
She said she thought her middle daughter may have flown to Wisconsin. It had been a while since they last spoke. Three days ago she tried to contact her again, hoping the anger and begun to fade with time.
“I sent her a text telling her, ‘You know that I’m sorry for those years that I was lost, I was drinking,’” Apangalook said.
Her daughter hasn’t responded.