A year after her disappearance from a South Jersey playground, authorities are still searching for Dulce Maria Alavez.
The 5-year-old Bridgeton girl ran from a playground while playing with her 3-year-old brother as their mother sat in a car about 30 yards away.
Authorities are still searching for a Hispanic man in his late 20s to early 30s who was spotted near the Bridgeton City Park playground on the afternoon of Sept. 16, 2019, the FBI agent on the case said Wednesday.
Dulce’s family and community members are planning a prayer vigil in the park from 5 to 7 p.m. next Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of her disappearance, her grandmother, Norma Perez Alavez, said. Speaking in Spanish, she said Wednesday that there has been nothing new in the case. Her daughter, Noema Alavez Perez, who is Dulce’s mother, remains sad over Dulce’s disappearance, she said.
FBI Special Agent Daniel Garrabrant said Wednesday that investigators plan to be in Bridgeton sometime over the next few days to show the family support and to have a presence in the community.
Over the past year, authorities have conducted thousands of interviews from New Jersey and New York to California and Mexico, and have pursued thousands of leads, he said. Within days of the child’s abduction, the FBI spoke to her father in Mexico and learned that she was not there, he said. Both her mother’s side of the family in Bridgeton and her father’s side in Mexico have been cooperative, Garrabrant said.
One theory the FBI has been working under is that the person who abducted Dulce could have been a stranger who did not specifically target her, he said. The person would have been familiar with the park, he said.
“That’s why we think the community is so important,” Garrabrant said. What may be key is that the offender may have changed his behavior afterward by moving out of the area, or missing work, he said. Garrabrant stressed that authorities just want to find Dulce and are not concerned with any tipster’s immigration status.
Like Garrabrant, Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae and Bridgeton Police Chief Michael Gaimari said in recent interviews that they are continuing to pursue new leads. But there’s “nothing new or earth-shattering” to report, Gaimari said.
“In the absence of evidence indicating that Dulce is deceased, we continue to remain hopeful that she is alive,” McRae wrote by email last month.
Tipsters, who may remain anonymous, may call the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or Bridgeton Police at 856-451-0033. There is a $75,000 reward for information about the girl’s whereabouts.
©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer