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Woman found dead in tent Saturday second outdoor death in 48 hours

Michelle Theriault Boots
Bill Roth

A grandmother from Kipnuk was found dead in a tent tucked in a wooded area of Mountain View Saturday morning, making her the second woman to die of exposure on the streets of Anchorage in a span of two days.

Phyllis Ayaprun, 57, spent Friday night in a tent near Commercial Drive and Rampart Drive in Mountain View, said APD spokeswoman Jennifer Castro in an email Sunday.

At about 7:30 a.m. on Saturday the man staying in the tent with her called police because Ayaprun was unresponsive, police said. The man told police she'd been drinking the night before.

Medics found Ayaprun dead when they arrived and concluded that she'd died from exposure.

Ayaprun was covered in sleeping bags but wasn't fully clothed and lacked winter gear, Castro said.

The man sharing a tent with her didn't appear to have injuries from exposure to the cold, she said.

An initial police investigation showed no signs of foul play.

An autopsy is being confirmed to determine the exact cause of death, Castro said.

The death came two days after a 34-year-old mother of four was found dead from exposure in a van parked at a used-car lot near downtown.

Police found Elaine Marie Cleveland, 34, dead in a Chevrolet Express van at about 7:30 a.m., the morning after Christmas.

An autopsy showed that cold weather contributed to her death.

Cleveland's sister told KTVA Channel 11 News that Elaine Cleveland started drinking and became homeless after losing her job.

Ayaprun, too, was a mother and grandmother.

She had five biological children and adopted a sixth, said her son Shawn Peter, who lives in Quinhagak. One of her sons passed away.

Peter described his mother as a joyful, selfless woman who had struggled with alcohol.

She was proud of her Yup'ik heritage and loved traditional foods. (Peter favored her walrus soup.) Even neighbors in Bethel knew about her Kipnuk-style akutaq, a recipe she learned from her mother.

She sewed intricate Yup'ik style grass baskets and at one time worked at the Bethel Prematernal Home, where Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta women go to await the birth of their babies.

In April, Ayaprun traveled to Anchorage to spend time visiting a boyfriend, her daughter Laura Peter said. He was homeless.

She'd only gone to the city for an extended period of time once before, Peter said.

He tried to keep in touch with her but she kept losing her phone.

"The situation she was in, we had some worries," he said.

When he last spoke to his mother she'd been bouncing between motels, friends and family. Camping wasn't mentioned.

"I was telling her I could pay her fare back to Kipnuk," Peter said. "She said she wasn't ready yet."

A memorial is being planned for Phyllis Ayaprun in Kipnuk.

At least five other people have died outside in Anchorage this year, including a Karluk Manor resident found dead in the woods near Sullivan Arena in July, a 55-year-old man from Illiamna whose body was discovered near Chester Creek after a late spring snowstorm and a 36-year-old man who died in May after drinking in a midtown park with his brother.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.

 

KTVA: Remembering Elaine Cleveland
By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
mtheriault@adn.com