Nearly a year after five-year-old Dulce Alavez disappeared from a New Jersey playground as her mother sat in her car less than 100 feet away, the FBI says the child was abducted in a crime of opportunity and may still be alive.
‘If you are looking for a child to take the child, you go where children are,’ FBI special agent Daniel Garrabrant told NJ Advance Media. ‘That’s one of the reasons that we believe that the target was a child, but it may not necessarily have been Dulce.’
Dulce was last seen in Bridgeton City Park with her three-year-old brother, Manuel, at around 4pm on September 16, 2019.
The children’s mother, 19-year-old Noema Alavaez Perez, stayed in her car parked 30 yards away from the playground to check a scratch-off lottery ticket and help her eight-year-old sister with her homework.
Garrabrant said the mother’s being temporarily distracted and not being present next to Dulce led the abductor to believe it was an ‘opportunity’ for him to snatch the child in broad daylight.
‘The person’s intent might not have been to take a kid,’ according to Garrabrant. ‘It could have been maybe to watch children because that’s what they liked, and the opportunity presented itself and they did what they did.’
After a few minutes, the mother said she walked over to the play area to check on her children and found only her son crying.
An Amber Alert was issued that night, with police giving a description of a Hispanic man in his early 30s with facial acne they believe may have been involved in the abduction.
More than 11 months later, Dulce, who turned six years old in April, has not been found and no arrests have been made.
Having recovered no remains or evidence to suggest Dulce has died, investigation are working under the assumption that she is still alive.
FBI agents have spent thousands of hours chasing down leads and reviewing surveillance video from homes in the area surrounding the playground looking for the kidnapper’s vehicle.
Agents have cleared every vehicle on video except for about a dozen because their license plates were not visible, or the footage was too blurry.
In the weeks and months after Dulce’s disappearance, her mother’s behavior came under scrutiny, with some accusing her of playing a role in the abduction, or even selling her daughter.
Alavez Perez spoke to Dr Phil last December and denied those rumors.
In a separate interview with NJ media, Alavez Perez said Dulce’s father, who lives in Mexico, had previously expressed interest in seeking custody of her, but never took legal action to pursue it.
The FBI agent in charge of Dulce’s case said the father has been interviewed and has been cooperative, and investigators have found no evidence of a custody dispute between Dulce’s parents.
Garrabrant stressed that the rest of Dulce’s family continue to be ‘cooperative and engaged,’ but he would not say that anyone has been ruled out as a suspect in the abduction.
He also addressed a series of letters referencing Dulce’s kidnapping that were sent to various recipients in Ohio in March, saying that none of the information in them has been corroborated.
The FBI agent appealed to potential witnesses, or people who may know the identify of the suspect, to come forward.
He said the abductor may have missed work or family functions around the time of Dulce’s kidnapping, exhibited unusual behavior, altered his appearance, or repainted his vehicle.
Garrabrant added that the suspect possibly frequents parks and behaves oddly around children.
‘I honestly think there are people out there that know who the offender is, interact with the offender and might even describe them as socially awkward or odd, but may be afraid to say anything because they think, “Oh, this person would never take a child,”‘ he told the outlet.
Potential witnesses may be reluctant to speak up because they do not think they have any valuate information to share, or out of fear. Police have sought to reassure undocumented immigrants in the community that detectives investigating Dulce’s disappearance are not interested in their immigration status.
The Bridgeton community will host an event on September 13 to mark the one-year anniversary of Dulce’s disappearance, reported The Press of Atlantic City. Family spokeswoman Jackie Rodriguez said the event will feature a vigil, a motivational speaker, a rock-painting activity and refreshments.
The investigation into Dulce Alavez’s kidnapping remains active on the local, national and international levels, Garrabrant stressed.