The search for 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez is entering its second week with still no indication from authorities her possible abduction from Bridgeton City Park and where she might have been taken.
Dulce is approximately 3-feet, 5-inches tall with brown eyes and brown hair. She was last seen shortly after 4 p.m. on Sept. 16 wearing a yellow shirt with a picture of an elephant, black and white pants and white shoes.
According to the Amber Alert issued by State Police, the man who took the girl is described as a light-skinned, possibly Hispanic, male, roughly 5-foot-6-inches tall. He has a thin build, no facial hair and facial acne. He was wearing orange sneakers, red pants and a black shirt. The man led Dulce from a playground to a red van with a sliding side door and tinted windows and then drove away.
Anyone with information about Dulce is asked to call the New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit at 609-882-2000, ext. 2554, or the Bridgeton police at 856-451-0033. Tips may also be phoned into 1-800-CALL-FBI and select option 4, then select option 8.
Here’s a timeline of the ongoing efforts to locate Dulce from before her disappearance:
Monday, Sept. 16, shortly before 4 p.m.: Dulce’s mother Noema Alavez told police they stopped along with Dulce’s 3-year-old brother and an 8-year-old relative at a Sunoco convenience store for ice cream. Video surveillance captured at the store showed the children looking into a display case. Police provided images from the video to help show the clothes Dulce was wearing when she went missing.
Monday, Sept. 16, about 4:20 p.m.: Noema Alavez told police she immediately began looking for Dulce, thinking her daughter was hiding.
She said she searched for about 10 to 15 minutes before calling her brother to help look for the girl.
Monday, Sept. 16, at 5 p.m.: Noema Alavez calls police to report her daughter missing, beginning what would be an extensive search of the massive park.
About two dozen people were playing basketball at a court near the play area at the time the child went missing, police said. All were interviewed by police and none initially reported seeing an abduction, according to police. Witnesses confirmed seeing the kids at the playground.
The search went late into the night.
Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 7 a.m.: Police resumed the search and continued looking all day. Members of the community joined in the effort. The search included aircraft and thermal imaging cameras.
Investigators searched the 1,000-acre park, its adjoining neighborhoods and nearby Sunset Lake throughout the day on Tuesday before calling off the search when it became too dark.
More than 50 officers from various agencies within the county, city fire department personnel and K9s from throughout the state were involved in the search. A waterway at the park was also drained as part of the search.
Tuesday, Sept. 17, around 10 p.m.: New Jersey State Police issue an Amber Alert for Dulce, for the first time revealing new information indicating that the 5-year-old may have been abducted from the park. They issued a description of the man and red van with a sliding door believed to be involved in her kidnapping.
Bridgeton police later explained that the new information was uncovered after interviewing and re-interviewing witnesses.
Wednesday morning, Sept. 18: Noema Alavez told NJ Advance Media that police have suggested that members of Dulce’s family may have been involved in her disappearance, but she denied the claim.
“The police think our family did this,” she said. “They think I did something to her. I didn’t. I love my daughter. I would never do nothing bad to her.”
Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 2 p.m.: Police Chief Michael Gaimari said investigators have obtained video surveillance that may show the van being sought in the abduction, but Dulce’s whereabouts remain unknown.
Thursday morning: The boyfriend of Dulce’s mother (who is not the girl’s father) is detained by ICE, she tells reporters. The man was later released without being charged.
Thursday, Sept. 19, 3 p.m.: Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McCrae hold a brief news conference, announcing a $20,000 reward for information that leads investigators to Dulce. Webb-McCrae held another press briefing at the same time Friday, but had little else to add.
Friday morning, Sept. 20: The reward increased to $35,000 as a local business kicks in $10,000 and the State Policeman’s Benevolent Association chips in another $5,000.
Saturday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m.: A candlelight vigil is held in the park where Dulce went missing.
Sunday, Sept. 22: Gaimari, the Bridgeton police chief urges local resident to share information with authorities even if they are in the country illegally. He says police wouldn’t know if someone is undocumented and won’t ask about their immigration status.
Monday, Sept. 23: Authorities asked the public to review mobile phones and cameras for any possible images or videos recorded between 3 and 6 p.m. on Sept. 16 at Bridgeton City Park.
The FBI has set up a link to submit photos and videos to help in the search.
Jeff Goldman may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman.
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