BRIDGETON, New Jersey — A 5-year-old New Jersey girl who has been missing for nearly a year after she disappeared from a park while her mother was distracted was likely the victim in a crime of opportunity, according to a report published Sunday.
A lead investigator in the FBI’s case told NJ Advance Media they believe Dulce Maria Alavez was likely abducted from the park in Bridgeton, Cumberland County. However, she may not have been targeted prior to arriving at the park on Sept. 16, 2019.
“If you are looking for a child, to take the child, you go where children are,” FBI special agent Daniel Garrabrant told NJ.com. “That’s one of the reasons that we believe that the target was a child, but it may not necessarily have been Dulce.”
Garrabrant said there are other cases where abductors purposely go to places where children are out in the open and then wait for an opportunity.
“In this case, it was broad daylight, mom being distracted for a short period of time and Dulce and her brother being far enough away, that the offender felt like it was an opportunity for him to take Dulce and leave with her and that’s what he did,” Garrabrant said.
Dulce disappeared while playing with her 3-year-old brother as their mother sat in her car with an 8-year-old relative. Dulce's brother ran to the car crying and pointed to the area where he last saw his sister.
The girl’s mother then frantically called 911 to report what she feared was an abduction.
An Amber Alert was issued on Sept. 17.
Investigators believe the girl may have been taken by a man who led her to a red van.
A composite sketch of a man who Cumberland County prosecutor’s office officials said was seen in the park around the time Dulce went missing was released in October. Officials described the man as a potential witness.
Police have not identified any suspects in the case.
Bridgeton Police have pursued several leads as well as unsubstantiated tips in the case, including one that led investigators to Austintown, Ohio. Law enforcement conducted a search in the town but nothing was found, according to Chief Michael Gaimari.
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to finding Dulce.
She was last seen wearing a yellow shirt with a koala bear on the front, black and white checkered pants with a flower design, and white sandals, police said. She is 3-foot-5 and weighs 40 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes.
Those with information that could assist in the investigation are still urged to contact the Bridgeton Police Department at 856-451-0033 or utilize the department’s anonymous TIP411 text line, subtext “Bridgeton.”