What to Know
- Dulce María Alavez, 5, has been missing for three days since she disappeared Monday afternoon while playing in a South Jersey park.
- The family is pleading for help from the largely Latino community of Bridgeton, New Jersey, where fears of ICE agents run deep.
- A $20,000 reward is now being offered, and the FBI has stepped in to help with the investigation
Editor's Note: This story is no longer being updated. For the latest on the search for Dulce María Alavez, click here.
The grandmother of a 5-year-old girl now missing for the last 72 hours from a park in Bridgeton, New Jersey, pleaded for the public's help Thursday.
Norma Pérez asked members of the Cumberland County community, which consists of many Mexican immigrants, to tell investigators of any details they may know about the afternoon disappearance of Dulce María Alavez.
"Please, if you know something that will help us find my granddaughter, don’t be afraid of the police," she said, alluding to fears by some that coming forward may lead to problems with agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). "Please report what you know to the police."
She added that the family has "not been able to eat or sleep" the past three days.
A $20,000 reward is now being offered for information as well. The little girl was last seen 4 p.m. Monday playing at Bridgeton City Park with her little brother.
The FBI has joined the investigation.
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One lead police have is that a man led Alavez from the playground to a red van with a sliding side door and tinted windows. She was placed in the back seat by the man who drove away with her at about 4:20 p.m.
An Amber Alert, issued when officials suspect a child has been abducted, went out Tuesday night for the missing girl.
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," Bridgeton Police Chief Michael Gaimari said earlier in the week. "We have video surveillance that we've gathered from all of this area."
Alavez arrived to the Bridgeton City Park with her mother, 3-year-old brother and 8-year-old aunt Monday afternoon, Chief Gaimari said.
Her mother, Noema Alavez Pérez, let the younger children run out of the car toward a playground area while she and the other child remained in the car, according to police.
Each child had an ice cream in hand as they ran toward the playground, Alavez Pérez said.
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.
"I thought she was just playing hide-and-seek, that she was playing in the woods," Alavez Pérez said.
The mother called family members and they began to search the park and playground area. Afraid that someone had taken her daughter, Alavez Pérez called police around 4:50 p.m. Officers immediately began to search for the girl.
"I’m begging whoever has her to bring her back," Alavez's grandmother said in Spanish through a translator Wednesday. "She’s innocent. She’s little. I don’t know why they did this.”
Dulce attends Buckshutem Elementary in the Bridgeton School District and lives with her grandmother, who is her legal guardian.
The police chief said investigators believe the little girl's father is in Mexico.
"They're making attempts to locate him now," Chief Gaimari said of family and investigators.
Alavez Pérez's family members told NBC10 Wednesday that her daughter's disappearance and the investigation have taken a toll on Dulce's mother.
"She's doing really bad," Nayiber Alavez Pérez, Dulce's aunt, said. "I know most people think she's the one who did it to her or something but I mean, the cops already investigated everything to her."