The playground was ready and awaiting the eager children. Five-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez was buddied up with her brother, and their mother was nearby. What could go wrong? Unfortunately, a place most would consider safe turned out to be the opposite. What started as a routine day at the park became a frightening disaster when little Dulce vanished.
When Noema Alavez gave her son and daughter, Dulce Maria Alavez, permission to play at the park while she stayed in the car a short distance away, she had no idea that would be the last time she would see her precious five-year-old girl. Her children were playing together one moment, and her son was alone the next. With only the vague speculations of bystanders to point her in the direction of her missing daughter, the devastated mother she was stepped straight into a heart-wrenching saga. Dulce’s disappearance launched a search that would occupy the hearts and minds of neighbors and law enforcement for years to come.
Disappearance of Dulce Maria Alavez It Was Only for a Few Minutes
For the Alavez family, September 16, 2019, was just another fall day. Most parents can attest to the eagerness that ensues the closer one gets to the park with energetic little ones in tow. According to a printed report by Claudia Vargas of NBC Philadelphia, Noema Alavez let her two children, Dulce Maria Alavez and her baby brother, run ahead of her to play at a Bridgeton, New Jersey park while she scratched off a lottery ticket in the car. According to video interview footage also offered by NBC Philadelphia, Alavez reported seeing her daughter go down the slide. That was when she vanished from sight.
At first, Alavez believed that Dulce was playing a game of hide-and-seek. In no mood for the games, Alavez admitted to becoming annoyed. However, annoyance was soon replaced by worry that this was no game when there was still no sign of her. She searched for another 40 minutes before calling in the incident. According to the Bridgerton Police Chief, precious time was wasted. This provided Dulce’s abductor with ample opportunity to slip under the radar.
The written news report from NBC reports that, before calling the police, Alavez set about speaking to those who’d been in the area at the time of Dulce’s disappearance. A couple of bystanders who occupied the basketball court said that the children had disappeared behind some sheds. Two men were said to have been in the area at the time. The strangers at the scene suggested one of them might have kidnapped little Dulce Maria Alavez. Sights were set on a Hispanic man, and red cars were quickly zeroed in on. It wasn’t much to go off of, but it was a start.
Upon arriving at the park, the police scoured the nearby woods. “Through the early morning, we were still hoping to find the child was maybe in the brush or had gotten tangled up,” a member of the police force explained. The Bridgerton authorities claimed there was no evidence that the child had been kidnapped. Even as a heart-sick Alavez implored them to issue an amber alert, they hesitated. They were convinced that such an action was not warranted. However, when 29 hours elapsed and there was still no sign of the little girl, the alert was finally released.
The police had a couple of tips to go off of, thanks to a blessed few passersby. Still, there was one problem: the park didn’t boast a single security camera. This left the authorities with no way to confirm the accuracy of the eyewitness reports. After what happened to her daughter, the absence of proper park surveillance prompted Alavez to petition city officials about the necessity of camera installation. Nearly a year later, her request was heeded. Making the park safer for future visitors wouldn’t reverse what happened to Little Dulce Maria Alavez. The search for the, by then, missing 6-year old, continued.
According to Sharifa Jackson of 6ABC Action News, a month after Dulce’s disappearance, the police received a new lead.
As time went on, over one hundred leads poured in. Still, none of the tips led to a single arrest. Still, those tips took members of the Anti-Predator Project to New York. They embarked on a valiant search for the missing child. In NBC Philadelphia’s video interview footage, Alavez says that during the subsequent years, pictures of children resembling Dulce Maria Alavez were sent to her for analysis. She confirms that in some cases, the little girl did look somewhat like her daughter. However, there was always something in the face or hair that established for the heartbroken mother that they hadn’t found her lost child.
In addition to following the onslaught of leads, the authorities also searched inward, determined to leave no stone unturned. NBC Philadelphia’s printed news report states that a search warrant of Dulce’s home was issued as authorities “believe her family may know more than they are letting on.” When asked how she felt about the investigation, Alavez admitted the following in her NBC Philadelphia video interview: “Sometimes I think that they are too concentrated in me and that probably the person that did this is, like, on top of their nose and they just don’t notice.”
Not a Single Person has been Ruled Out as a Suspect
Despite Alavez’s opinion that the police should focus on those outside of the family, not a single person has been ruled out as a suspect, and members of Dulce’s family were even subjected to lie detector tests to cover all of the bases. Devastatingly enough, Matt Gray of NJ.com records that the Bridgerton Police Chief admitted: “[N]othing promising has been uncovered so far.”
After four years of endless investigation, leads continue to come in. The authorities have a detailed system for fielding these submissions. Specificity of time and location are vital, and those calling in with such leads are sometimes contacted further with clarifying questions. Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae states, “[E]very tip is taken seriously… I don’t dismiss anything. Nothing can be dismissed. Every piece has to be tracked down because I firmly believe that there’s one puzzle piece that will break this open.”
Frozen in Time Disappearance of Dulce Maria Alavez
Determined not to lose a grip on the case even as time wore on, NBC Philadelphia’s printed report records that the police generated an age-progression composite of Dulce Maria Alavez to give people a more accurate likeness to follow as the years pass. The forensic artist who produced the image referenced childhood photos of Dulce Maria Alavez. However, her family said that the composite was inaccurate. A second composite was released two years later.
Even as Dulce’s age increases in the composites, she is frozen in time. For those who know her, she remains their sweet little girl. The community from which Dulce was snatched is reportedly close, and everyone is determined to search until the child they held dear is found. “I still see her as the five-year-old baby,” Monica Mason is recorded by 6ABC Action News to have stated. “We’re still prayerfully praying she comes back home.”
Ambiguity remains prevalent in the case. The authorities still cling to the possibility that they will one day find Dulce.
Despite the passing years, Dulce’s family is seemingly no closer to discovering what happened to her. NBC Philadelphia’s printed report records that a vigil was held at the spot where Dulce Maria Alavez was last seen, encouraging continued awareness of her absence from the lives of her loved ones. Continuing their support since the beginning, the community faithfully surrounded the grieving family at the vigil. Friends, neighbors, the mayor, and the police chief attended the gathering.
In December of 2023, the family gathered again, embracing holiday festivities even as they mourned another Christmas without Dulce, John Russo of The Press of Atlantic City reports. The gathering was geared toward enjoyment for children and featured appearances from Santa Claus and the Grinch. Face painting was also part of the event. The festivities reflect that, four years later, the family has chosen to embrace light rather than dwell in agony. A tribute to Dulce Maria Alavez was prominently displayed where she was last seen. A bittersweet photograph taken by Staff Photographer Matthew Strabuk captures the little girl’s family beside the commemorative setup as they “celebrate what they hope to be the last Christmas without her.” “We want Dulce back home,” Alavez told 6ABC Action News. “All we want is Dulce home.”