» UPDATE: The search for Dulce Maria Alavez remains underway, with officials reporting no major breaks in the effort to find the girl or the red van used in her suspected abduction. Authorities and the child’s family appealed for help in the case on Thursday, and search efforts at the park continued on Friday.
Noema Alavez Perez, whose 5-year-old daughter, Dulce Maria Alavez, was apparently abducted Monday from a park in Bridgeton, Cumberland County, wasn’t acting the way some people thought she should.
“People think I’m not going crazy enough,” said Alavez Perez, 19, as she sat in her parents’ Bridgeton house Wednesday, moments after returning from a church where she prayed for the child’s return.
She recounted how on Tuesday, having not eaten for 36 hours, she accepted a slice of pizza from a family member as she stood in Bridgeton City Park, the site of the abduction, and was approached by a stranger who had volunteered to search for the child.
“ ‘If my daughter was missing, I wouldn’t eat!’ this lady yelled at me," said Alavez Perez, a Bridgeton native. “Then she started taking a video of me. My mother told me not to go back to the park because everyone is talking bad about me.”
Even the authorities have been suspicious, she said. “The police tell me, ‘If you know where she is, tell us.’ But I told them everything. They think I’m lying; I’m telling the truth.”
What Alavez Perez has said is that, on Monday, after buying ice cream for her 8-year-old sister, her 3-year-old son, Manuel, and for Dulce, she drove to the park.
While Alavez Perez spoke with her sister about the little girl’s homework in the parking lot, Dulce and Manuel ran toward the swings on the playground about 30 yards away. They were out of sight for less than three minutes when Manuel ran back, crying and pointing to a spot near park buildings, she said.
“I thought she was playing hide-and-seek,” Alavez Perez said.
She called her brother and told him to bring Lalo, the family’s 8-month-old pit bull-boxer mix, to search for Dulce, and she phoned police.
Local and state police, as well as the FBI, started hunting for Dulce. On Wednesday, electronic signs on New Jersey highways flashed Amber Alert messages about the girl.
Compiling information from witness accounts, police said in a statement: “Detectives believe Dulce was taken by a light-skinned Hispanic male, 5′6” to 5′8″, thin build, no facial hair and facial acne, wearing orange sneakers, red pants and a black shirt.
“The suspect was last seen leading Dulce from the Bridgeton City Park playground to a red van with a sliding door and tinted windows at approximately 4:20 p.m.” Monday.
Dulce’s photo was sent over TV airwaves and shared on Facebook.
On Wednesday, Bridgeton Police Chief Michael Gaimari said that “nothing has been ruled out,” as authorities questioned “any relatives of the child, anyone with any connection to the victim or the mother.”
He added there were “rumors the mother orchestrated this,” and said, “We take all things we hear into account.”
He added, “I’d be remiss if we didn’t look at this also like it could be a random act, too.”
While the chaos ensued, Alavez Perez, who is five months pregnant, absorbed another blow: Her boyfriend, the father of the child she is carrying, was being questioned by authorities about the abduction when it was discovered that he is an undocumented Mexican citizen, she said. Alavez Perez believes he’s now in ICE custody and may be deported. Federal officials said Wednesday that they could not determine whether that was true.
Alavez Perez’s parents — who have reversed last names, Norma Perez Alavez and Camilo Alavez Perez — emigrated from Mexico 20 years ago. The father works in a nursery, the mother in a food factory.
While Dulce and Manuel live in the family house, Alavez Perez lives in a room in a nearby house. .
She said she and her mother fought. “My mom kicked me out,” she said. “I was angry so much and not helping out. But because I had Dulce when I was 14, my parents loved her like she was their daughter and took official custody of her. I’m OK with it.”
She said she neither works nor is in school.
Dulce’s father, she said, is from Mexico and, after being with Alavez Perez in New Jersey for a while, returned there to study at a university in Sinaloa. “He’s finishing his studies so he could give a better life to my daughter,” she said.
Alavez Perez said she had trouble with drugs and alcohol and had fallen into depression in the past. But, she added, those negatives are no longer factors.
One of Alavez Perez’s sisters, Nayaeli Alavez, 21, said that Dulce is a “mischievous, very smart little girl” who always listens to her mother. Earlier in the month, she began kindergarten at Buckshutem Road Elementary School in Bridgeton.
As the day wore on Wednesday, local residents joined a phalanx of reporters in Bridgeton City Park, where police officials occasionally answered questions.
Leaning against a car in the parking lot, Alavez Perez’s father, Camilo, kept quiet vigil with relatives, awaiting some kind of word.
He declined to speak.
Anyone with information can call 911 or Bridgeton police at 856-451-0033.
Inquirer staff writer Dylan Purcell contributed to this article.