Months after Dulce Maria Alavez disappeared from a Bridgeton, Cumberland County, playground, Dr. Phil McGraw had one question for the 5-year-old girl’s mother: Where is Dulce?
In an hour-long Dr. Phil episode, recorded in early November and aired on CBS Friday, McGraw grilled 19-year-old Noema Alavez Perez about the day her daughter vanished, whether she believes the little girl is still alive, and why she appears so calm in the wake of her child’s disappearance.
‘I was in shock’
Dulce disappeared the afternoon of Sept. 16 while playing in Bridgeton City Park with her 3-year-old brother. Alavez Perez remained in a car nearby, telling McGraw she was helping her 8-year-old sister with her homework. After Alavez Perez found the boy alone and crying, she called 911.
“It was weird. They usually play and they don’t go out of sight," Alavez Perez told McGraw, adding that she found her son pointing to a row of utility shed buildings near the playground.
“I just came down the path looking for her, yelling her name,” Alavez Perez said. “I didn’t want to believe someone took her, I was in shock.”
A group of girls playing basketball nearby then told the mother they saw a man pass by and watched Dulce run toward the buildings. Authorities issued an Amber Alert based on a report that a man was seen leading the little girl to a red van.
Alavez Perez said she had instructed her daughter to “scream if she saw a stranger.”
“Do you think that it was maybe someone she knew?” McGraw asked.
“Maybe, I’m not sure,” the mother responded.
‘You seem very relaxed about the whole thing’
Midway through the interview, McGraw paused.
“You’re the mother; you seem very relaxed about the whole thing,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of mothers of abducted children, and you’re the most calm I’ve ever talked to.”
Alavez Perez told McGraw: “I don’t know why, I don’t cry in front of people, just when I’m by myself. I don’t even cry in front of my parents.”
As he peppered her with questions, Alavez Perez said that she believes Dulce is alive, that she has taken a polygraph test, that she did not set up her daughter’s kidnapping, and that she did not try to sell her daughter.
In a cutaway shot, McGraw noted that a language barrier for Alavez Perez, whose first language is Spanish, may contribute to her “flat affect.”
‘An old friend'
After McGraw asked Alavez Perez who first came to mind as someone who may have taken her daughter, she replied, “An old friend I used to know.”
The last time she saw the friend, who she said had tried to date her, he waved and asked whether Dulce was her daughter, she said.
Authorities have asked for help in identifying a sketch of a man, described as a possible witness, who was reportedly seen with one or two children in the park. Alavez Perez told McGraw she does not recognize the man in the drawing.
McGraw also interviewed Jackie Rodriguez, a resident of nearby Vineland who previously told The Inquirer she became close with Alavez Perez after organizing the first candlelight vigil for Dulce.
“She seems too calm," Rodriguez told McGraw. "I feel like she knows that child is OK. She’s missing her, but she’s not freaking out, she knows she’s OK.”
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae declined to discuss the “details of the investigation,” but previously said the family has been cooperative with law enforcement.
Rodriguez also told McGraw that she believes undocumented community members are not coming forward with information in the case because they’re "afraid of being deported."
Authorities have repeatedly vowed not to question witnesses about their immigration status. Anyone with information about the case can contact the Bridgeton Police Department at 856-451-0033.