BRIDGETON — Search efforts continued Sunday for a 5-year-old girl who has been missing for several weeks.
Nearly 50 volunteers combed the woods behind Alden Field for several hours looking for any clues that might help locate Dulce Maria Alavez, who was last seen at City Park on Sept. 16. The search did not yield any tangible evidence of the girl’s whereabouts.
“If this was to happen to me, as a mother, I’d want all the help I could get,” said Jackie Rodriguez, who organized Sunday’s efforts. Rodriguez, 37, of Vineland, also helped put together a candlelight vigil at Alden Field shortly after Dulce’s disappearance.
On Friday, Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said law enforcement was still searching for “that key piece of information that we need to to lead us to Dulce, or to the circumstances surrounding her disappearance.”
Webb-McRae said the investigation, which has included more than 300 law enforcement officers from various agencies, is operating under the presumption that Dulce is still alive.
Mayor Albert Kelly, who led one of several teams of volunteers Sunday afternoon, said the community is holding out hope the young girl will be found. A father of four daughters, Kelly said no parent should have to endure what Dulce’s mother, Noema Alavez Perez, is dealing with right now.
“Who would want to live through this nightmare? Nobody,” Kelly said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a positive end to this.”
Jennifer Capizola and her 13-year-old daughter, Emma Warfle, both of Rosenhayn, wanted to help in any way they could. At one point, Warfle found a plastic wrapper to a coconut ice cream bar, briefly giving the volunteers hope because Dulce had been eating a similar treat the afternoon she disappeared. But it turned out Dulce had been eating hers from a paper cup, and the search continued.
Capizola said she twice attempted to contact law enforcement with information Wednesday, but both times she only got a recorded message that her call could not go through due to a high call volume.
“My heart’s been bleeding for this kid since this started,”Capizola said.
Dulce was reported missing Sept. 16, and state police issued an Amber Alert for her the next day.
Alavez Perez, Dulce’s 19-year-old mother, was sitting in her car with an 8-year-old relative when her she saw her 3-year-old son crying and pointing to where he last saw Dulce, police said. The girl may have been taken by a man who led her way from the playground where she was playing with her brother, according to police, and into an older model red van.
A $40,000 reward has been offered for information leading to Dulce’s whereabouts. She has also been placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list of missing or kidnapped persons.
Anyone with information can call Bridgeton police at 856-451-0033, or the FBI at 800-CALL-FBI, or text information to tip411 with the word “Bridgeton.” Pictures or videos can be uploaded to fbi.gov/alavez.