Investigators are taking a renewed interest in the case of Dulce Maria Alavez, a young girl who went missing in New Jersey four years ago. A recent digital projection, showcasing what Dulce Maria might look like now at age 9, has breathed new life into the investigation. Released by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the image has sparked about a dozen leads, mainly from the Cumberland County area.
“I think half of them were possible sightings, and half of them were just information,” Bridgeton Police Chief Michael Gaimari mentioned, as reported by NJ.com. Despite the influx of information, the mystery surrounding her disappearance remains intact, with no significant breakthroughs thus far. “So far, nothing promising has been uncovered,” Gaimari admitted.
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae emphasized the importance of every lead, stating, “I don’t rule anything out. You have to track down every piece because I firmly believe there is a piece of the puzzle that will solve this.”
A glimpse into the past
Dulce Maria, a U.S.-born child of Mexican descent, disappeared on September 16, 2019, from Bridgeton City Park in Cumberland County, NJ. She was five years old at the time. The predominantly Latino town of Bridgeton, nestled in one of New Jersey’s most rural areas, has since been clouded by the mystery of her disappearance. The FBI, with its world-renowned investigative prowess, has been involved, but no tangible leads or evidence have been found.
The FBI’s Special Agent Daniel Garrabrant theorized in August 2020 that Dulce Maria might have been abducted by a stranger in an unplanned crime of opportunity. While the FBI has remained tight-lipped since then, local authorities confirm that all theories remain on the table.
The day of the disappearance
On that fateful day, Dulce Maria was playing in the park with her younger brother, Manuel, while their teenage mother, Noema Alavez Perez, sat in her car, accompanied by her younger sister. An AMBER alert was promptly issued, leading to a massive search by local and federal authorities. However, the lack of security cameras in the playground has compounded the challenges in the investigation.
Though authorities and experts have underscored the rarity of such cases, they have also highlighted the difficulties they present. Over time, children’s appearances change, making identification more challenging. The FBI has reiterated the importance of community involvement, urging those with information to step forward without fearing repercussions related to immigration status.
A glimpse into the family’s life
Dulce Maria was in her grandmother, Norma Perez’s custody on the day she vanished, but her mother, Noema, was looking after her. Noema, then pregnant, has since given birth, and today, in 2023, she has four children.
There have been various developments and rumors associated with the case:
- Dulce Maria’s father, who resides in Mexico, has been questioned.
- Reports suggested that a Hispanic male, described as 5-6 to 5-8 in height with a thin build and facial acne, was seen putting Dulce Maria into a red pickup truck.
- The mother’s then-boyfriend, Edgar Martinez, was arrested but not charged in relation to Dulce Maria’s disappearance. Martinez, an undocumented immigrant, was later taken into ICE custody.
- Rumors circulated in March 2020 about a possible sighting of Dulce Maria in Ohio, which authorities later refuted.
- Contrary to social media rumors, New Jersey officials clarified in October 2020 that Dulce Maria had not been found deceased.
- A digital image update of Dulce Maria was released on her seventh birthday in September 2021.
- In December 2022, a memorial event, “Dulce’s Silent Night: A Christmas Miracle,” was held at the park where she was last seen. Volunteer Brenda Trinidad told NJ.com, “It’s to remind Dulce that her family misses her and wants her to come home for Christmas.”
Despite the passage of time, hope remains, and the search for Dulce Maria Alavez continues.