5-year-old Dulce Missing for Four Weeks: What We Know So Far
BRIDGETON — It was four weeks ago Monday that anyone last saw Dulce Maria Alavez, the little girl authorities say seems to have been abducted from a park in town.
There has been no sign of the girl, who vanished from a playground at Bridgeton City Park as she played with her 3-year-old brother on Sept. 16. A State Police Amber Alert remains active and she is still on the FBI's Most Wanted kidnapping and missing persons list.
Dulce was last seen walking toward a red van with a man at Bridgeton City Park, according to Bridgeton police.
"In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we remain hopeful that Dulce is alive. We ask the public to keep Dulce's disappearance in the public eye and report anything suspicious that may help us find Dulce," Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae told New Jersey 101.5 in an email on Monday.
Here's where the case stands:
Have there been any signs of Dulce?
Webb-McRae said at an Oct. 4 press conference that despite numerous searches there has been no physical evidence indicating with certainty where Dulce may have been taken.
What have the authorities done so far?
Two-hundred buildings have been searched and more than 1,000 tips have been received and processed, according to the prosecutor. "Five hundred vehicles have been identified and investigated, over 50 different types of legal processes have been served including court orders and including subpoenas," Webb-McRae said at a recent press conference, but no arrests have been made.
Her statement didn't make clear who's been served with those orders, or why.
Is the investigation still active? Are there suspects?
Police Chief Michael Gaimari has said that no one has been "cleared" as a suspect in the case.
"Until the child is located and until we can determine what happened to the child, no one is cleared," Gaimari has said. Webb-McRae said that Dulce's family has been co-operative in the investigation. Authorities early on in the search made public statements to dispell rumors Dulce's mother had been arrested.
Have authorities spoken to other family members?
Last month, the girl's mother told NBC Philadelphia that the FBI has spoken to Dulce's father, whom she identified as Edgar Perez. Bridgeton Police Chief Michael Gainari earlier said that investigators wanted to speak with Perez but believe he is still in Mexico. He'd recently announced his intention to fight for her custody, the mother said, according to the NBC report. However, in a public appearance Sept. 30, she said there was no custody issue, and she didn't believe Dulce's father was involved.
The mother, Noema Perez, also said her boyfriend — who is the father of the child she is currently pregnant with — was working in Philadelphia the day Dulce disappeared.
What was happening when Dulce went missing?
Perez was in a car nearby playing scratch-off lottery games and helping another family member with homework, the mother said during the Sept. 30 appearance.
Police had previously said Dulce had been playing with her 3-year-old brother while Perez remained in her vehicle parked about 30 yards away with an 8-year-old relative — which the mother described Sept. 30 as her own younger sister. The 3-year-old came back to the car without Dulce, and after a brief search of the immediate area, Perez called 911, police originally said. In the account the mother gave Sept. 30, Perez said she walked to a park and found her son crying without his sister.
Is Dulce still in the area?
McRae-Webb said that investigators do not believe the 5-year-old girl is in the Bridgeton area.
Has there been any new evidence?
Webb-McRae has said investigators are still looking for the "key piece of information that we need to lead us to Dulce or the circumstances surrounding her disappearance."
When did the Amber Alert for Dulce go into effect?
It was more than 24 hours after Dulce's disappearance that state officials first issued an Amber Alert. The alerts are not used for all missing children cases, or even all possible abductions. State Police told New Jersey 101.5 they're issued only when specific criteria are met that suggest a child is in serious danger.
How much reward money has been posted?
The reward for the safe return of Dulce is up for $52,000, with the addition of $5,000 put up by Philadelphia Lodge No. 5 Fraternal Order of Police and another $1,000 from each of two groups. Also part of the reward money: $10,000 from the NJ State Policemen's Benevolent Association, $10,000 from Newfield National Bank, $5,000 each from the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office, $5,000 from the Tortilleria El Paisano restaurant and $1,000 from the Lakewood Scoop.
Are authorities talking to members of the immigrant community?
Officials involved in the case have stressed they don't want anyone with information afraid to come forward, even if potential witnesses are in the county illegally. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told New Jersey 101.5 Dulce's case is an example of the type his office seeks to help with its Immigrant Trust Directive -- a controversial set of guidelines that limit local police cooperation with immigration authorities, but that proponenets argue can help police get more cooperation from immigrant communities.
Is there anything I can do?
Police have suggested several behaviors that might suggest to friends or family that a person is connected with a crime, and asked them to be vigilant for any sign of troubling activity. They also suggested that those in the area could unknowlingly have clues about the disappearance in pictures or videos on their cell phones, even if they don't seem related at a first glance.
Information can be called in at 800-CALL-FBI (225-5324) option 4, option 8 or reported anonymously by calling the Bridgeton's TIP 411 text service by texting "Bridgeton" plus your tip to 847411.