Additional reporting and video by: Christian Oberly and Ryan Schumacher
BRIDGETON, N.J. — The search for five-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez continues as Dulce’s grandmother makes an emotional plea for the child’s safe return.
Dulce’s grandmother, whose name is being withheld to protect her privacy, made the plea during a press conference held at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19. Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae made announcements involving the investigation and Dulce’s grandmother spoke to the public.
“Please, if you have information, help us find my granddaughter,” Dulce’s grandmother said to members of the press, speaking through a translator. “Do not be afraid of the police. We have not been able to eat nor sleep, you can’t imagine what we are going through, we are very sad. Please help our family, I beg of you.”
Law enforcement is looking to identify a male who was in the park at the time Dulce went missing. Webb-McRae says that he may have information that can greatly assist in this investigation. He is described as a light-skinned male, possibly Hispanic, wearing orange shoes. It is possible that he may not know he could have important information for the investigation.
During a short question-and-answer segment near the end of today’s conference, one reporter asked if the man being sought as Dulce’s potential abductor and the man authorities would like to speak with who was in the park at the time are the same individual. Another reporter asked why bloodhounds would still be used to search the park today if investigators believe Dulce was taken from the scene in a red van.
“We are getting information from all different sources, we are following up on every single lead that we get […] obviously, we have to take every single lead that we get seriously. So when we got that information, we obviously put it out and we are pursuing it. But we are not excluding any other lead, any other information, any other person, any other car, any other description of anyone who someone thinks may be involved in this disappearance,” the prosecutor said.
Webb-McRae also announced that the FBI and the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office will each be offering a $5,000 reward for any information that helps with finding Dulce or identifying who took her. Newfield National Bank has also promised a $10,000 reward as well — making the total reward $20,000.
Webb-McRae wants the public to know that there are Spanish speaking officers out in the city who can communicate with the Hispanic community. She also wants the immigrant and undocumented community to know that law enforcement will not be asking questions about immigration status.
She asks the public to be patient as the investigation is still active and ongoing and that all leads are being pursued.
The prosecutor is asking for anyone that was at the park on Monday, Sept. 16, to come forward, because anyone who was there may have information that could be extremely helpful to the investigation. “Please, we’re appealing to you to call us to help us find Dulce. No detail is too small, no detail is too insignificant. You may not even realize this information is important,” she said.
The investigation is ongoing in the Bridgeton City Park. “We are focusing our efforts in and around the area of the park,” Webb-McRae said. “If you see officers out there searching, they’re searching for evidence, they are searching for anything that could help us find Dulce.”
Dulce Maria Alavez was last seen at the Bridgeton City Park with her mother, brother, and another relative on Monday, Sept. 16.
According to an Amber Alert that was sent out on Tuesday night, Dulce Maria Alavez was abducted by a light-skinned Hispanic male, 5’6″ to 5’8″, thin build, with no facial hair and facial acne, wearing orange sneakers, red pants, and a black shirt.
The suspect was seen leading Dulce Maria Alavez from the Bridgeton City Park playground that she and her brother were playing at toward a red van or SUV with a sliding side door and tinted windows around 4:20 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 16.
Dulce has brown eyes and hair, stands approximately 3′ tall, and weighs 60 to 70 pounds. She was last seen wearing a yellow shirt with an elephant design, black and white pants, and white shoes.
Shortly after arriving at the park on Monday, Dulce’s 3-year-old brother returned to his mother alone, crying. Their mother, Noema Alavez, searched for Dulce for a short time before calling police just before 5 p.m.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit at (609) 882-2000 ext. 2857, Bridgeton Police Department at (856) 451-0033 or 911 immediately. You can call the FBI as well at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) and select option 4 then select option 8.
The FBI Newark Twitter page has also advised people to avoid spreading misinformation, tweeting, “Do not spread rumors on social media with respect to the search for Dulce Maria Alavez. Information is being released through official channels. Don’t be responsible for distracting the focus of everyone’s efforts. Let’s unite to #findDulce.”
SNJ Today will continue to update the story as it develops.