As the search resumed early Wednesday for a 5-year-old girl authorities now believe was abducted from a New Jersey park on Monday, triggering a statewide Amber Alert, the girl’s mom issued a plea for the safe return of Dulce Maria Alavez.
Noema Alavez said Wednesday that police have suggested that a family member played a role in Dulce’s disappearance from a Bridgeton park as she played with a sibling, but she knows that’s not the case.
“The police think our family did this,” she told NJ Advance Media. “They think I did something to her. I didn’t. I love my daughter. I would never do nothing bad to her.”
Alavez just wants the kidnapper “to return her back and stop making her family suffer so much,” she said.
The missing child case turned into a possible abduction on Tuesday night after Bridgeton police said they interviewed and re-interviewed witnesses who were at City Park around 4:20 p.m. Monday when Dulce disappeared.
According to the Amber Alert issued by New Jersey 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.
He led Dulce from a playground to a red van with a sliding side door and tinted windows and then drove away, the alert says. The alert has been shared thousands of times on social media.
Dulce is approximately 3 feet tall with brown eyes and brown hair. She was last seen wearing a yellow shirt with a picture of an elephant, black and white pants and white shoes.
Investigators spent the day Tuesday at the 1,000-acre Bridgeton park trying to find the girl, first by conducting an extensive ground search that began at 7 a.m., according to city Police Chief Michael Gaimari. More than 50 officers from various agencies in Cumberland County as well as Bridgeton firefighters and K9 units from across New Jersey took part.
Gallery: Authorities search Bridgeton City Park for missing 5-year-old girl, Sept. 17, 2019
The State Police also deployed a helicopter over the park and had help from the FBI Child Abduction Rapid Deployment unit.
Water rescue and search teams from the city’s fire department and nearby Downe Township also took part in the search. Crews eventually drained a waterway known as a “raceway,” which once carried water from Sunset Lake to power local industries. That search turned up nothing, police confirmed.
Noema Alavez said she drove her kids to a playground area in the park a little after 4 p.m. Monday. They had just visited a Sunoco convenience store for ice cream before heading to the park. Police have security camera video of that visit and posted those photos showing the last known images of Dulce.
At the park, Dulce and her 3-year-old brother ran off to play, while the mom stayed in the vehicle with an 8-year-old relative, Chief Gaimari said on Tuesday.
After about 10 minutes, the 3-year-old ran back to the car crying and pointed to the area where he said he last saw his sister, which included some storage buildings near the playground.
Alavez said she searched for Dulce for 10 to 15 minutes, thinking the girl may have been hiding, before calling her brother for help and ultimately notifying police shortly before 5 p.m.
Dulce’s father is in Mexico, Alavez said, and she hasn’t been in touch with him. He still has family in the Bridgeton area, though, and they notified him of the child’s disappearance, she said.
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 reported seeing an abduction, police reported around mid-day Tuesday. Witnesses confirmed seeing the kids at the playground.
While police initially said they had no evidence of an abduction, they noted late Tuesday that during “interviewing and re-interviewing” witnesses they gained information that led to the Amber Alert.
An exhausted group of volunteers who helped in the search waited for news in a parking lot at the park on Wednesday morning.
Kristen Dill, of Quinton Township in neighboring Salem County, said she heard about the search Monday and arrived at the park around 9 a.m. on Tuesday. She searched until around 11:15 p.m. Tuesday.
“We’ve been everywhere,” she said. “We’ve been on the raceway, we’ve been behind the zoo, We’ve been under bridges, in bushes, in trees. We’ve been absolutely everywhere and nothing. We’re exhausted. We’re tired and we’re just praying to God.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact the State Police Missing Persons Unit at 609-882-2000, ext. 2857 or the Bridgeton police 856-451-0033.