BRIDGETON, N.J. (CBS) — Cumberland County officials remain hopeful they will find 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez alive as the search for the missing girl is in its fifth day. A $35,000 reward is being offered for information leading to Dulce or her possible abductor.
She vanished from the Bridgeton City Park playground between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday and police fear she was abducted.READ MORE: Philadelphia Mural Arts Unveils New Work, Teams Up With The Colored Conventions Project
Police issued an Amber Alert Tuesday night in Dulce’s disappearance.
On Friday morning, about 100 officers from different departments gathered at the ball fields close to where Dulce disappeared. Groups of uniformed officers went through the woods and a New Jersey State Police helicopter performed and aerial search. This is the largest search effort at the park since Tuesday when authorities issued an Amber Alert.
Bridgeton Police Chief Michael Gaimari said the search expanded another mile-and-a-half in each direction.
Gaimari also shot down an erroneous report going around that Dulce’s mother, 19-year-old Noema Alavez Perez, was arrested and said how that report started is being investigated.
Investigators are trying to leave no stone unturned in their search for Dulce. They’re asking the public to keep watch for the girl and her possible abductor. Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae reiterated they need the public’s help.
She described changes in behavior she wants you to look for, including suddenly missing work or appointments since Monday, increasing alcohol consumption, abruptly discarding clothes or even a vehicle, or leaving town without an explanation.
“We want people in the surrounding areas to be alert and looking at behavior and if they see anything that they see suspicious, no lead is too small or too insignificant for us to take a look at,” Webb-McRae said.
Despite the ongoing search, police do not have any suspects in the disappearance.
“We do not have any strong suspects at this time,” Gaimari said.
Webb-McRae said during Friday’s press conference that Dulce’s mother and family are cooperating in the investigation.
“We remain hopeful we will find Dulce alive,” Webb-McRae said.
Webb-McRae added they are actively seeking to speak to Dulce’s father who is not in the United States.
On Thursday, Dulce’s grandmother made a passionate plea begging to bring the missing girl home.
“Please do not be afraid of the police, please help us find our granddaughter,” Dulce’s grandmother said through a translator. “We have not been able to eat or sleep, we beg of you.”
When police issued an Amber Alert Tuesday, they described a possible kidnapper in a red minivan or SUV. Investigators are now describing that man more like a person of interest.
He is described as a light-skinned, possibly Hispanic, man, standing 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-8 with a thin build. He has no facial hair but he does have acne.
Police say he was last seen wearing orange sneakers, red pants and a black shirt. He was driving a red van with a sliding door and tinted windows.
Dulce was last seen wearing a yellow shirt with an elephant, black and white pants, and white shoes.
*** If you have any information, please call police at 856-451-0033 or text anonymously to TIP411. ***
Robert Lowery, vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told CBS3 there are some possibilities remaining via Skype.READ MORE: WATCH LIVE: Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf To Unveil Legislation To Strengthen Protections Against Sexual Assault, Violence On Campus
“The child may have found herself alone or met someone, an adult, who gained her trust, that’s a possibility,” Lowery said. “[It] could have been someone she knew or could have wandered off an got herself lost.”
Below is an up-to-date timeline of Dulce’s disappearance.
Police say Dulce was taken between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. She was last seen playing on the swings with her younger brother at the park. Police say her mother, 19-year-old Noema Alavez Perez, was sitting in a parking lot nearby and didn’t see what happened to her daughter.
“We thought that she was just hiding, playing around and we went looking for her but we couldn’t find her,” Perez said.
Dulce was reported missing and police and volunteers began scouring the park and nearby wooded areas and bodies of water for the little girl.
With choppers, scuba gear and numerous dogs, police and community members continued to search the park. After two days searching every possible area of the 1,000-acre park, police determined the girl had been abducted and issued an Amber Alert late Tuesday night.
Police were able to get enough information to issue an Amber Alert by tracking down people who had been hanging around the basketball courts near the area where Dulce disappeared. At least one person was able to provide details about a possible kidnapper.
The Amber Alert included a description of the alleged abductor — a light-skinned, possibly Hispanic, man, standing 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-8 with a thin build. There is no word on if he was known to Dulce or was a stranger.
A statewide search for Dulce intensifies after the Amber Alert. The FBI and New Jersey State Police join the search.
Community members and police again searched the park as “missing” posters and flyers lined businesses in Bridgeton’s downtown.
Dulce’s aunt, Nayiber Alavez Perez, says accusations on social media that the family is involved in the abduction are wrong and untrue.
“Well, it’s really much more harder for us because they’re judging us that we have something to do with it, when we don’t. We might not show emotion or things like that but it’s because we’re trying to be strong for her. We just want her back home,” Alavez Perez said.
Cumberland County authorities hold a press conference asking the public for help in the search, saying that no detail or tip is too small or insignificant.
“Anyone who was at the park on Monday afternoon could have information of great assistance to this investigation. Please, we’re appealing to you to call us to help us find Dulce,” Webb-McRae said.
Dulce’s grandmother made an emotional plea for the public’s help.
“Do not be afraid of the police. We have not been able to eat nor sleep. You can’t imagine what we are going through. We are very sad,” she said through a translator.
Authorities say anyone willing to give them information does not need to worry about questions about their immigration status.
Here is the latest @FBI poster for #DulceMariaAlavez there is now a $20,000 reward for info on the missing 5yo girl. Police emphasize those who give tips won’t be asked about their immigration status.
Please RT! pic.twitter.com/MtjqjWVUen
— Cleve Bryan CBS3 (@CleveBryan) September 19, 2019
Police say Dulce’s mother is cooperating with police and the girl’s father is not in the United States.
Police conducted another K-9 search Thursday in the area of the playground where Dulce disappeared.
Investigators are asking people to call police if they were in the park Monday afternoon.
*** If you have any information, please call police at 856-451-0033 or text anonymously to TIP411. ***MORE NEWS: Philadelphia Native Kahleah Copper Named WNBA Finals MVP After Chicago Sky Win First-Ever Title
CBS3’s Cleve Bryan and Alexandria Hoff contributed to this report.