Family prepares to mark third birthday since child vanished from NJ park

Dulce Maria Alavez will turn 8 years old on April 25, but she won’t be there for an event planned in her honor at the park where she was last seen.

This will be the third birthday Dulce’s family has marked since the little girl disappeared during a family outing to Bridgeton City Park on Sept. 16, 2019.

Dulce was 5 when her mother called 911 to report that the family couldn’t find her after she ran off to a nearby playground. Her disappearance sparked a massive search and an Amber Alert, but her whereabouts remain unknown.

Investigators are hopeful that she’s still alive and her mother has issued repeated pleas for her return. While one FBI agent theorized that she was likely abducted from the park by a stranger in a crime of opportunity, local authorities say all possibilities remain under consideration regarding her disappearance.

A team of supporters is assisting the family with planning the birthday event at the park where she was last seen. The birthday theme is the Disney movie Moana, one of Dulce’s favorites.

The goal is to celebrate the girl whose face has appeared on fliers and billboards nationwide and whose disappearance has drawn international attention, but also to keep her story in the public eye, according to organizers.

The event gets underway at 6 pm Monday, though attendees are invited to start gathering near Dulce’s Tree, a space in the park dedicated to honor the missing child, starting at 5.

Learn more on the Justice for Dulce Maria Alavez Facebook group.

Noema Alavez Perez stands in front of a tree dedicated in honor of her daughter Dulce Maria Alavez, in Bridgeton, NJ on Sunday, December 19, 2021. Dulce vanished from the park on Sept. 16, 2019.Dave Hernandez | For NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

In the early days of the investigation, two possible suspect descriptions emerged of what authorities believe is the same person – a Hispanic man about 5 feet 8 inches tall and about 30 to 35 years old, with acne.

Investigators scoured hours of video looking at vehicles seen in the area that day.

Brenda Trinidad, one of the volunteers helping the family, urged area residents to take a look back at their cellphone photo and video files, whether through Google Photos or similar services that archive every image taken, for any possible clues that could assist the investigation.

“They could’ve caught the car or even the person in question without knowing,” she said. “You didn’t have to be in the park, just maybe in the Cumberland County area in general. If you find something, please submit it to the FBI. “

Volunteers are planning more searches in the Cumberland County area and anyone interested in helping is urged to contact Trinidad or fellow volunteers Melanie Dawn, Anna Donnelly and Stacey Filoon via Facebook.

Trinidad offered a message to the child and her abductor.

“We won’t stop searching for you, Dulce,” she said. To the kidnapper, Dulce deserves to be with her family. They ask you to return her or leave her at a local business or church. They are suffering, and with her birthday coming up, they are reminded of how much her presence is missed. “

Investigators aren’t giving up, Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae stressed last week.

“This case is going to remain open until we determine who is responsible for Dulce’s disappearance,” she said. “What I would like the public in this community to know and around the nation is we’re still looking for Dulce … in the absence of evidence that she’s no longer with us, we still hold out hope that she’s alive.”

An alert public is key to cracking the case, she added.

“It’s going to take somebody noticing something suspicious or that little tip to really break it wide open.”

Anyone with information about Dulce is asked to contact authorities via one of these options:

  • Bridgeton Police: 856-451-0033
  • Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office: 856-453-0486
  • New Jersey State Police: 609-882-2000, ext. 2554
  • FBI: 1-800-CALL-FBI. Select option 4, then option 8.
  • Anonymous tips may be sent to Bridgeton Police at bpdops.com/tips or to the prosecutor’s office at njccpo.org/tips.

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Matt Gray may be reached at mgray@njadvancemedia.com.

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