Reward now $35K in search for missing little girl as police address rumors of arrest

Authorities in New Jersey held a press conference Friday afternoon to update the public on the continued search for missing 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez, and addressed false rumors that police have made an arrest.

Bridgeton Police Chief Michael Gaimar said at the news conference, shared via livestream from NBC Philadelphia, that false rumors had been circulating that Dulce’s mother, 19-year-old  Noema Alavez Perez, had been arrested in connection to her daughter’s disappearance. The police chief said those rumors were  “totally erroneous” and cautioned against sharing misinformation.

Dulce was last seen late Monday afternoon at Bridgeton City Park, while she was playing with her younger brother as her mother and another child were in a nearby car. Authorities issued an AMBER Alert the following day, describing a Hispanic male suspect who some witnesses reportedly said they saw “leading” the little girl into a red van with a sliding passenger side door and tinted windows. Investigators have not made contact with this man yet, and Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said authorities now characterize that individual as a “person we want to talk to.”

“We do not have any strong suspects,” the police chief said, adding that Alavez Perez’s boyfriend is not considered a suspect.

Webb-McRae declined to answer a question about whether the mother’s boyfriend is in ICE custody, telling reporters that ICE activity was not part of the missing persons investigation. As CrimeOnline previously reported, Alavez Perez told multiple news outlets earlier this week that her boyfriend was questioned by authorities, who discovered during the questioning that he was undocumented. On Thursday, the New York Post reported that a federal source confirmed the boyfriend was in ICE custody.

The mother’s current boyfriend is not Dulce’s father; the father is believed to be in Mexico and the prosecutor said that authorities are actively trying to communicate with him. It is unclear how they are attempting to reach him,

At Friday’s news conference, Webb-McRae and the chief reiterated that potential witnesses who came forward would not be questioned about their immigration status.

“We are not concerned with immigration status whatsoever,” the prosecutor said.

Webb-McRae also advised citizens to be on alert about any unusual behavior among their loved ones and people they know, suggesting that authorities believe it is possible the person or people responsible for Dulce’s disappearance are part of the community.

“The offender’s usual routine will likely be altered,” Webb-McRae said, noting that they might miss appointments and commitments with little or no notice.

A person who was involved might also “display anxiety, nervousness, irritability, or withdraw from normal activities,” she said.

Webb-McRae thanked Dulce’s mother and the rest of the family for their continued cooperation in the investigation. She said she remained hopeful that Dulce would be found alive, and noted in an earlier phone conversation with CrimeOnline that despite multiple, intensive, and repeated searches of a wide area near where Dulce was last seen, investigators have not found any human remains or physical evidence so far to suggest that the little girl was hurt in that area.

She said at the news conference that the investigation will continue and that authorities want to speak to anyone at all who could have information; even if a potential witness is not sure if the information is significant. She also reiterated that police have provided an anonymous tipline for those who do not want to share their identity.

“Nothing is off the table,” she said.

The law enforcement agents noted that the reward money offered has again increased, to $35,000 from $30,000 earlier Friday.

Anyone with information is urged to contact the State Police Missing Persons Unit at 609-882-2000, ext. 2554 or the Bridgeton police at 856-451-0033. You can also text anonymously to TIP411.

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