Dozens of loved ones, local residents and community leaders gathered Saturday night in South Jersey to hold an emotional vigil for 5-year-old Dulce María Alavez, who disappeared from a park earlier this week.
The vigil was held at Bridgeton City Park where Alavez was last seen playing with her little brother Monday afternoon. People wore yellow, the same color Alavez wore the day of her disappearance. Supporters lit candles, prayed together and sang hymns to show support for the Alavez family.
“I want to thank you for being here ... so we can stand here shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, to do what we have to do to retrieve our little girl,” Bridgeton Mayor Albert B. Kelly said. "Bridgeton cares."
Through tears, Alavez’s grandmother also thanked those gathered and told people not to be scared to come forward if they have any information.
“She was with me since she was born,” Norma Pérez said. “I miss her. I need her.”
Jackie Rodriquez, who oraganized Saturday’s vigil, said she hopes “the prayers work and [Alavez] comes back home safe.”
A reward for information leading to the little girl climbed to $35,000 Friday as a search that involved more than 100 local and federal officers failed to turn up the missing child.
Officials expanded the search radius by more than a mile but still failed to locate Alavez, who police believe was kidnapped by a man as she played at Bridgeton City Park around 4 p.m. Monday.
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," Gaimari said earlier in the week. "We have video surveillance that we've gathered from all of this area."