Three Months Later: Where is Dulce Maria Alavez?

Written by on December 6, 2019

Three Months Later: Where is Dulce Maria Alavez?

By K.C. Lopez

Nearly three months ago, a young child from New Jersey was abducted after school from a local park. As WLVR’s K.C. Lopez reports, the investigation has led police to the Lehigh Valley. 

Noema Alavez Perez dialed 911 from Bridgton City Park in Cumberland County, New Jersey – to reporting that her 5-year-old daughter, Dulce Maria Alavez, was missing on September 16th

“911 what is your emergency?” 

Noema Alavez Perez: “I can’t find my daughter…” 

“Okay, when was the last time you seen here?” 

Alavez-Perez: “We were at the park. People said that somebody, probably took her.” 

That was more than two months ago.   

Perez says it’s been devastating for her family, especially her non-verbal three-year-old son, Manuel. 

“He starts asking where she at? But he can’t talk so he just points and tries to say that, where she at? Then he starts crying and pointing at her pictures,” Perez says.  

The American-born girl was last seen when Perez took her two children to the park. The 19-year-old stayed in the car to help Dulce’s eight-year-old aunt with homework, while the other children played about 30 yards away. 

It was the last time anyone saw Dulce Maria. Police have released a sketch of the man spotted at the park and are urging anyone who recognizes him to come forward. 

But one issue complicating the investigation is the largely immigrant community’s complicated relationship with police. 

Case in point – Noema’s boyfriend was brought into ICE custody to be questioned. He was later released, but family spokeswoman Jackie Rodriguez says that’s heightened fear of law enforcement and deportation among the city’s undocumented residents. 

“They don’t have their papers, they’re not legal here. They’re scared and they’re not the only ones, there are many out there in the city of Bridgeton that feel the same way that are in the same shoes. I feel like a lot of people are afraid to speak because of that problem,” says Rodriguez. 

Dulce is one of approximately 60 active missing child cases in the Garden State. In neighboring Pennsylvania, it’s more than double. 

Robert Lowery of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says there’s a startling trend when it comes to kids of color like Dulce. 

“About 60% of the children that are reported missing today in the United States are children of color,” he says.  

In Pennsylvania, black children make up only 13% of the child population in the state, but account for 31% of active missing children cases. The trend is similar for Hispanic children – they account for 11% of the population under 18, but 18% of missing kids in Pennsylvania.   

Lowery explains why children of color are missing at higher rates. 

“I think it has a lot to do with the media attention some of these cases seem to attract and the attention that does garner the public’s attention,” he says. “But one particular demographic that does concern me is the Hispanic-Latino children, especially those who are undocumented and are reluctant to call police when their children are missing out of fear of deportation.”

In the first month after Dulce’s disappearance, more than a thousand tips poured in; leading hundreds of investigations to more than 200 locations. One of them came from the Family Thrift Shoppe in Hellertown where a customer said they spotted the child inside. The New Jersey Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office says the tip was investigated but didn’t elaborate further. 

In the meantime, Dulce’s family and supporters are trying to keep the case alive. They held a vigil to mark two months since her disappearance, where her grandmother, Norma Perez Alavez begged the public to share her photo. 

For Dulce’s family, their heartache won’t be over until the girl with the ‘sweet’ name and the sweeter smile comes home. 

“What do you pray for at night?” K.C. Lopez asks Noema during an interview. 

“For her safety, that she’s okay and everything because one thing I know is that she didn’t like sleeping by herself or sleeping in the dark,” Noema says. “I feel sad because she’s not with us. She’s probably asking why they’re not coming to get me. Why are they taking too long to come and get me?” 

Dulce Maria Alavez remains on the FBI’s most-wanted list for kidnapped or missing persons and a reward for information now stands at $75,000. 

Anyone with information regarding the case is urged to contact the Bridgeton, New Jersey Police Department.

Officials ask that anyone who was in Bridgeton City Park between 3 and 5 p.m. on Sept. 16 contact the Bridgeton Police Department at (856) 451-0033. Tipsters can also call 1-800-CALLFBI (1-800-225-5324), selecting Option 4, then Option 8. Tips can be anonymously texted to TIP411 with “Bridgeton” in the message. Video and photos can be sent at fbi.gov/alavez.

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