Lost at the Playground – the vanishing of Dulce Alavez

Dulce Maria Alavez (5) was last seen at the Bridgeton City Park in Bridgeton, New Jersey on the afternoon of September 16, 2019.

Dulce and her little brother Manuel (he was 3 at the time) lived in Bridgeton with their maternal grandparents. Dulce’s mother, Noema, who was pregnant at the time lived in a room at a house nearby. She was only 14 when she had Dulce and shared joint custody of her two children with her parents.  

Dulce’s father was in Sinaloa, Mexico at the time of her disappearance; he hadn’t been part of her life since he was deported when she was three. 

Bridgeton, New Jersey, is a small city about 45 minutes south of Philadelphia — tucked between fields and farms.

Nearly 50% of the population there is Hispanic, according to the census.’

Around 4pm on September 16, 2019 (which was a Monday), CCTV captured the last known images of Dulce. Before going to the park, Noema took Dulce, Manuel and Noema’s 8-year-old younger sister (she would be Dulce’s aunt) to get ice cream, where they were captured on camera.

Shortly after, the family went to Bridgeton City Park. Dulce and her younger brother Manuel got out of the car and ran off to play on the swings approximately 30 yards away from the car.

Noema stayed in the car with her younger sister. She did a scratch-off lottery ticket and was helping her younger sister with homework.

Noema said she could see the entire park from the car except the swings because it was down a small hill.

After Noema hadn’t seen the kids for 10 minutes or so, she got out of the car to see what they were up to. She found Dulce’s younger brother alone crying with his ice cream on the ground.

(There are also reports that Manuel came back to the car crying to get Noema. She says she got out of the car and found him crying. Not sure which exactly is true.)

When asked where Dulce was Manuel said she ran towards some red maintenance sheds next to the playground

Noema looked for Dulce, but couldn’t find her and called police at 4:51pm.

No trace of Dulce or the ice cream she had was ever found. 

“She would never run off. She would never walk by herself or do something like that. This is the first time she did it,” said Dulce’s mother, Noema.

The search for Dulce escalated quickly.  Law enforcements and locals joined forces to try to locate her.  The FBI got involved fairly quickly and an Amber Alert was issued the day after she disappeared.

Police interviewed witnesses who were in the vicinity at the time and got a description of a possible male suspect.

The man is described as a light-skinned man, possibly Hispanic, about 5’6 to 5’8 tall with a thin build. He had acne on his chin. He was wearing a black shirt, red pants, and orange sneakers, possibly Nike brand. 

He allegedly put Dulce into a red van with a sliding door and tinted windows and left the park with her.

“We don’t have any solid suspects, we are investigating all the possibilities. We have video surveillance that we’ve gathered from all of this area as much as we could obtain,” said Chief Michael Gaimari with the Bridgeton Police Department.

On September 18, a vigil was held at the park. Dulce’s aunt spoke to the media.  

“It’s more harder for us because they judging us that we had something to do with it — when we don’t,” she said.

By September 19, there was a $20k reward for anyone who had information leading to the identification or conviction of a suspect in Dulce’s case.  

The Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office, Bridgeton police, State Police, New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and NCMEC were/are all involved in the search for Dulce. 

Just one day later, September 20, the reward had grown to $25k.

Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae issued a plea for witnesses to come forward: “We’re asking them, we’re appealing to them, we’re encouraging them to come forward.”

By September 23, the reward was at $35k.  “At home, there is an emptiness since she hasn’t come back,” said Dulce’s uncle, Abad Perez Alavez. “She hasn’t hurt anyone, she’s only an innocent child, who likes to have fun and play games. We don’t know why she’s disappeared.”

Police were able to contact Dulce’s father in Mexico early in the investigation and cleared him in regards to her disappearance. Neither her father, her mother, nor any other members of Dulce’s family have been named as suspects in her case.

On September 24, 2019, Dulce was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

On October 3, the 911 call made by Dulce’s mother on the day she disappeared was released.

On October 10, police released a sketch of a possible witness in the case.  

The Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office said the sketch was developed after a witness who recently came forward was able to provide a description. The sketch of this witness is thought to be more representative of the actual suspect than the info that was originally given by a child at the time.  

“We are asking this person (or anyone who may recognize him) to come forward as investigators wish to speak with him as it is believed that he may have information that is helpful in determining the circumstances that led to Dulce’s disappearance,” the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office said.

This person has been reported to have been with one or two children under the age of 5 years old.

Authorities said this person was reported to have been wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans and a white baseball style hat. He is reported to be a Hispanic male, approximately 5’7″, slender build, age 30-35 years.

Noema appeared on the Dr Phil show in December 2019.

In an interview on the “Dr. Phil” show, Noema told Dr. Phil “I asked her brother what happened. He just said, cause he doesn’t know how to speak, he just told me to come. He said somebody called her,” Perez told Dr. Phil..

Dr. Phil asked Noema if she sold her daughter or knew who was involved in her abduction. She answered no.

When asked if Noema knew who might have taken Dulce, she said an old friend who tried to date her would be her first suspect.

“Last time he saw me, me and my daughter together, and he just waved at me and said ‘hi,’ and he asked me if that was my daughter, and I said ‘yes,'” she said.

“He was trying to date you and you rejected him?” Dr. Phil asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“How did he take it?” he responded.

“He just insisted, but I told him ‘no,'” Noema said.

Noema has spoken to the media many times over the years.  

“It’s been really hard for me and for my parents, knowing that Dulce doesn’t appear,” she told ABC News in June 2021. “Nobody knows where she is.”

“She was a sweet girl. Nice, loving,” Perez said. “She likes to pretend that she was always a princess. She likes to be around like smaller kids. She always like to give hugs. And kisses.”

There isn’t a day she doesn’t think about her daughter.

“I would say to her that I’m sorry for not looking over her,” she said tearfully.

One initiative that has been launched following Dulce’s disappearance is that the city’s Police Athletic League (PAL) launched indoor soccer to help build the relationship between community and police.

Bridgeton Police officer Josh Thompson, the director of PAL and 25-year-veteran, said the department doesn’t want people to feel scared if they have concerns about their legal status and withhold information that could delay finding Dulce.

Local police want to let residents know they should come forward regardless of their legal status. “You don’t have to worry about if you’re a citizen.” Thompson

Here is a clip from GMA that talks about how this program is helping the community. They speak with Noema and Officer Josh Thompson

n October 2020,  online rumors began saying that Dulce had been found deceased.

Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae issued an announcement on Facebook Tuesday night saying that the post — which includes her office’s logo, a photo of Dulce and a message indicating a press conference will be held “when we know all the details” — is fake.

She included a screenshot of the post in her announcement with the words “false information” written over the image.

“Information like this is a distraction to the investigation and causes unnecessary grief to the family of missing child Dulce Maria Alavez,” Webb-McRae wrote. “Posting false information under the false impression that it is comes from a law enforcement agency to cause alarm or harm to a grieving family is reprehensible.”

In September 2021, authorities released an age progressed photo of what Dulce might look like as a 7 year old.  Her birthday is April 25.  This release was made on the second anniversary of her disappearance.  

Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae and Bridgeton police Chief Michael Gaimari released a joint statement.

“Law enforcement continues to pursue all leads in its quest to locate Dulce,” the release states.

“We hold out hope that Dulce is alive (as we have no evidence of her demise) and want the public to know that this case will remain open until such time as we locate Dulce and determine those responsible for her disappearance,” Bridgeton police said in the release.

Dulce’s mother and grandmother have said they don’t think the photo looks anything like Dulce.

Dulce is still missing as of January 2022.  

Dulce is described as around 3 feet 5 with brown eyes and brown hair. She was last seen wearing a yellow shirt with an elephant on it, black and white pants and white shoes.

Tips can be called in to the New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit at 609-882-2000, ext. 2554, or the Bridgeton police at 856-451-0033. Anyone with information can also dial 1-800-CALL-FBI and select option 4, followed by option 8.

2 thoughts on “Lost at the Playground – the vanishing of Dulce Alavez

  1. Saying the other little girl is Noema’s sister, which makes her Dulce’s cousin, isn’t correct. If the other little girl is Noema’s sister, then she’s Dulce’s aunt. If she were Dulce’s cousin, then she would be Noema’s niece. I realize the family may refer to the young girls as cousins, but that’s not the correct connection.

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