What to Know
- A statewide Amber Alert has been issued for 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez. Police say a man abducted her from a Bridgeton park.
- Alavez was last seen Monday afternoon while visiting the Bridgeton City Park, police said.
- Investigators have tried to uncover more video as the search for the girl widens.
A $20,000 reward is now being offered for information that leads to finding a 5-year-old girl now missing for the last 72 hours from a park in Bridgeton, New Jersey.
The search continued Thursday for Dulce Maria Alavez, who was last seen 4 p.m. Monday playing at Bridgeton City Park with her little brother.
The FBI is now helping investigate the case.
One lead police have is that a man led Alavez from the playground to a red van with a sliding side door and tinted windows. She was placed in the back seat by the man who drove away with her at about 4:20 p.m.
An Amber Alert, issued when officials suspect a child was abducted, went out Tuesday night for the missing girl.
At the time of her disappearance, Alavez wore a yellow shirt, black and white checkered pants with a flower design and white dress sandals. She has dark brown hair that was tied into a ponytail, police said. Alavez stands around 3 feet, 5 inches tall.
Police said Alavez was taken by a light-skinned male who appeared to be between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-8 inches tall with a thin build. He was clean-shaven and had acne on his face. The suspect wore orange sneakers (possibly Nike), red pants and a black T-shirt.
Police obtained surveillance video from a nearby gas station of Alavez inside a convenience store with her siblings about 20 minutes before her disappearance.
"We don't have any solid suspects," Bridgeton Police Chief Michael Gaimari said. "We have video surveillance that we've gathered from all of this area."
Alavez arrived to the Bridgeton City Park with her mother, 3-year-old brother and 8-year-old aunt Monday afternoon, Chief Gaimari said.
The mother, Noema Alavez Perez, let the younger children run out of the car toward a playground area while she and the other child remained in the car, according to police.
Each child had an ice cream in hand as they ran toward the playground, Alavez Perez said.
About 10 minutes later, the mother saw the 3-year-old boy upset and crying, his ice cream on the ground and his sister nowhere to be found. The boy pointed behind some buildings saying his sister went that way, Alavez Perez said.
"I thought she was just playing hide-and-seek, that she was playing in the woods," Alavez Perez said.
The mother called family members and they began to search the park and playground area. Afraid that someone had taken her daughter, Alavez Perez called police around 4:50 p.m. Officers immediately began to search for the girl.
"We conducted an extensive search last night," Chief Gaimari said Tuesday morning. The search included the use of a New Jersey State Police helicopter and police K-9s.
Family members and people from the community continued to search the park Tuesday, playing ice cream truck music and calling out "Dulce" in hopes of getting the missing girl's attention as they scoured the woods and park facilities. At one point they gathered in a prayer circle.
About 50 police officers carried out a grid search Tuesday morning, investigators said. Crews also searched the woods and dive teams searched waterways in the large park. Police towed away Alavez Perez's car from the park Tuesday night and took it in for processing.
"We want to make sure the car was free of any evidence or if there's anything in there that we could use toward determining how this happened, we wanted to make sure," Chief Gaimari said.
Search parties remained in the park into Wednesday morning. New Jersey State Police Aviation and Missing Persons units and the FBI Child Abduction Rapid Deployment unit are aiding in the search.
The community has also come together in the search.
"I’m begging whoever has her to bring her back," Alavez's grandmother, Norma Alavez, said in Spanish through a translator. "She’s innocent. She’s little. I don’t know why they did this.”
NBC10 learned Wednesday that the girl, who attends Buckshutem Elementary in the Bridgeton School District, lives with her grandmother, who is her legal guardian.
"We don't believe the father is in the country," Chief Gaimari said. "But they're making attempts to locate him now."
Alavez Perez's family members told NBC10 Wednesday that her daughter's disappearance and the investigation have taken a toll on Alavez Perez.
"She's doing really bad," Nayiber Alavez Perez, Dulce's aunt, said. "I know most people think she's the one who did it to her or something but I mean, the cops already investigated everything to her."
Chief Gaimari also addressed on Wednesday the question of why it took so long for police to issue an Amber Alert.
"You have to realize when the initial officers got here from our department, their main concern was locating the child," Chief Gaimari said. "You don't want to think about abduction. You're thinking about a lost child."
Anyone with information about the disappearance is asked to contact Bridgeton police at 856-451-0033 or call their local police department.