Body of missing Charlene Malepeai Mamea found in Unalaska Lake
Editor’s Note: Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence is hosting a community support gathering Saturday, March 25, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the high school gym. More information is available here.
Updated 3/22/2023 at 12 p.m.
The body of a missing Unalaska woman was found and recovered from beneath the ice on Unalaska Lake early Tuesday evening, just over two days after she was last seen.
Searchers found Charlene Malepeai Mamea, 34, at 4:48 p.m. in the lake on the north side of Broadway Avenue, at the intersection with Dutton Road, Interim Fire Chief Ben Knowles told KUCB Tuesday evening.
As fire officials were following up an unrelated tip in the area, which had been the focus of the search since it began Sunday evening, Knowles said a firefighter spotted what appeared to be shoes at the edge of the ice line. A group of officials waded into the water, discovered Malepeai Mamea beneath the ice, and transported her to the morgue at the Department of Public Safety, where her family positively identified her remains.
The State Medical Examiner’s Office, in Anchorage, has requested Malepeai Mamea’s body be sent for examination, and Unalaska police are coordinating with local shippers to transport her remains.
Knowles said the Medical Examiner’s request is a common one, and he declined to comment on how Malepeai Mamea may have ended up beneath the lake ice near her apartment on Dutton Road. She was last seen Sunday at 2:30 p.m. leaving home “abruptly,” according to Public Safety officials.
“We’ll all anxiously await the results,” Knowles said. “But I don’t expect anything outside the norm.”
On Wednesday morning, Deputy Police Chief Bill Simms said police do not suspect criminal involvement at this time. An investigation is ongoing, and he said police are following all leads.
Simms also said it can take two to four weeks for the State Medical Examiner to perform an autopsy and share final findings. Once police have those results, he said officials will be able to share with the public whether they’re closing out the investigation or pursuing it further.
Knowles said Monday that officials did not believe alcohol or drugs were involved.
After days of combing over many of the same areas, searching through periods of gusting winds and blowing snow, Knowles credited the weather with actually helping searchers to finally locate Malepeai Mamea.
“I think the wind was blowing just the right way,” said Knowles, “that it must’ve finally shifted things enough with the ice” and allowed searchers to spot her shoes.
Searchers had already canvassed the area where she was found, including with an underwater drone. But Knowles said three or four feet of mud and silt in the water, along with a lack of ambient light, likely hampered searchers’ visibility.
Knowles said fire officials, many of whom had pulled shifts 18 hours or longer, are “relieved” to be able to offer some closure to Malepeai Mamea’s family and the community as a whole.
“We’re saddened. We’re upset. But this is an outcome,” he said. “It’s not the outcome that we wanted, but it is an outcome for the family.”
Malepeai Mamea is survived by her husband, Rambo, a young daughter, and a large extended family, a family member told KUCB. She worked at Alaska Ship Supply and North Port Rentals, and she volunteered at the Unalaska Christian Fellowship church.
Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence is hosting a community support gathering Saturday, March 25, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Unalaska's high school small gym, having canceled its Soup-Off fundraiser originally scheduled that day.
“Please join us for light refreshments and a chance to spend some time with friends and neighbors,” read a USAFV announcement shared Wednesday morning. “No formal presentations are planned, but APIA [Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association] Behavioral Health Providers and USAFV staff will share information about local resources - because we ALL need a little help sometimes.”
Updated 3/21/2023 at 5:30 p.m. — — —
With the search ongoing for a missing Unalaska woman, the Department of Public Safety announced Tuesday at 5:10 p.m. that it was closing Dutton Road at East Broadway Avenue for an "unforeseen amount of time” and advised community members to “avoid the area.”
First responders and emergency vehicles, including an ambulance, fire trucks, and police cars, were on the scene at the road closure as of 5:30 p.m.
Charlene Malepeai Mamea, 34, was last seen Sunday at 2:30 p.m. when she “abruptly” left her apartment on Dutton Road on Nirvana Hill.
At 4:50 p.m. on Tuesday, Unalaska officials confirmed to KUCB that the search for Malepeai Mamea was still ongoing, but said they would share no further details at that time.
Original story published 3/21/2023 at about 10 a.m. — — —
The search for a missing Unalaska woman resumed Tuesday at daybreak.
Charlene Malepeai Mamea, 34, was last seen Sunday at 2:30 p.m. when she “abruptly” left her apartment on Nirvana Hill’s Dutton Road, Interim Fire Chief Ben Knowles said Monday morning while briefing search parties.
The search — which began Sunday at 7:30 p.m., led by Unalaska’s Fire Department and including dozens of community volunteers and members of city, state, and federal entities — has involved canvassing and recanvassing the areas around Malepeai Mamea’s home and deploying a remote underwater vehicle beneath the ice on Unalaska Lake.
The Fire Department temporarily suspended the search Monday around 4 p.m., when Knowles said most of his staff had been searching for 18 hours or longer and that searchers needed to stop, rest, and reset for their own safety before they resuming.
In a text message Tuesday morning, Knowles told KUCB that searching had resumed at daybreak, with search teams focused “on outlying areas directly adjacent to where our initial focus was. From there we will move beyond that radius.”
Knowles also said he’s exploring the possibility of bringing in search and rescue dogs for additional help.
“I have reached out to a few different organizations that have K9 resources to start the process of enlisting their services to aid in our search,” he said. “That is still developing and [I’m] unsure if that resource will be available to us.”
On Monday, Knowles said officials do not believe alcohol or drugs are involved in Malepeai Mamea’s disappearance. Deputy Police Chief Bill Simms said police do not suspect criminal involvement at this time either, but an investigation is ongoing.
Malepeai Mamea — who’s Samoan, 5’ 08”, and 280 pounds — was last seen wearing a t-shirt, dark sweatpants, and black boots with fur, Knowles said Monday. She has black hair and brown eyes.
A Public Safety alert released Sunday night also described Malepeai Mamea as an "at risk" person. On Monday, Knowles declined to explain what officials meant by "at risk," but he said there is "no threat to the public."