Three years after she mysteriously vanished from a park, the family of a missing New Jersey girl is still wrought by pain but hopeful that she will be found alive.
Dulce María Alavez, then 5 years old, disappeared from a park in Bridgeton, a small Latino-majority city surrounded by one of the most rural areas of the state, on Sept. 16 of 2019. Despite massive manhunts yielding no results, investigators say they believe the girl may still alive.
“It’s very hard to wake up every day and think, ‘My God, Dulce is still gone,’” Noema Alavez Pérez, the girl’s mother, said in an interview with NBC10 sister station Telemundo 62.
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Authorities believe Dulce was abducted as she played with her 3-year-old brother and her 8-year-old niece. Her mother had been watching the kids from a car when the suspected kidnapper struck.
Each child had an ice cream in hand as they ran toward the playground, Alavez Pérez told NBC10. 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 Pérez said, adding that she initially thought the girl was playing hide-and-seek. However, Dulce never turned up despite massive multi-agency and community-led searches.
Investigators think Dulce may have been taken by a man who had been near the park on the day of her disappearance, and they believe he may have driven off in a red van. They described him as a light-skinned, possibly Hispanic man standing between 5-feet-6 and 5-feet-8 with a thin build and acne on his face.
The search for the girl has not ceased and has spanned from western states all the way to Mexico, where the Federal Bureau of Investigations said Dulce’s father resides and has cooperated with authorities.
Last year, authorities released aged-progressed photos depicting what Dulce may have looked like at 7 years old.
The Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office said investigators have conducted hundreds of interviews over the last three years. The office on Thursday said tips continue to come in and that, “in the absence of evidence of Dulce’s demise, investigators hold out hope that she is alive.”
“Ever since Dulce María disappeared, every day has been very difficult because every day I wait for someone to say where my granddaughter is,” grandmother Norma Pérez said.
Anyone with information on Dulce’s whereabouts is asked to call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (843-5678), the Bridgeton Police Department at 1-856-451-0033, or the FBI at 1-800-225-5324.
Anonymous tips can also be submitted online to the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office.