It’s been three weeks since little Dulce Maria Alavez vanished from a park in Bridgeton, N.J., long enough for the first hints of an autumn chill to creep into the air, and for leaves to begin tumbling from trees.
Each day that passes without any new clues about the 5-year-old girl’s whereabouts adds to the growing sense of dread that has overtaken her South Jersey community, where parents fret about the specter of a man in a red van who might have been involved in her disappearance.
A reward for information that could lead to Alavez, or any potential suspect, has now climbed to $40,000.
John McNebsy, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 in Philadelphia, said his union added $5,000 to the reward. “It’s just a sad story, and too close to home,” he said.
The FOP’s reward money will be available to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest of a suspect. “Bring them in,” McNesby said, “and you are paid.”
The union president said he hoped the reward would help spark additional conversations about the case. “It might light a fire under someone who’s on the fence,” he said.
Authorities have directed anyone with information on Alavez to contact the Bridgeton Police Department at 856-451-0033.
The FBI late last month added Alavez to its list of high profile kidnappings and missing-persons cases. A photo of Alavez, smiling while wearing a red polo shirt and a pink backpack, now sits atop a web page that features photos of 86 other men, women and children who have been reported missing.
When Alavez vanished, the FBI notes, she was wearing a yellow shirt with a koala on the front, black and white pants with butterflies and flowers, and white dress sandals.