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60 percent of the missing children in the U.S. are kids of color.

Two Months Later: Where Is Dulce Maria Alavez?

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5 Year Old Dulce Maria Alavez Went Missing Sept. 16, 2019


"911 what is your emergency?"

Noema Alavez Perez: "I can’t find my daughter…"

"Okay, when was the last time you seen here?"

Alavez-Perez: "We were at the park. People said that somebody, probably took her."

Noema Alavez Perez dialed 911, reporting her 5 year old daughter, Dulce Maria Alavez, missing on September 16th; that was 67 days ago.

"It’s hard. It’s hard for all of us. We know that my daughter isn’t with us anymore. And when the police come to the house, every time they say they don’t have nothing. They haven’t found nothing," Dulce's mother Noema tells PBS39 News Tonight Reporter, K.C. Lopez, "I think that this is just all a nightmare but when we realize that she’s not here with us anymore. She be the one that be making noise the most in the house but now the house is silent without her."

The American-born girl was last seen at Bridgeton City Park in Cumberland County, New Jersey. Her mother took her, along with Dulce’s three year old brother and eight year old aunt, there shortly after school dismissal. 30 yards away, the 19-year-old mother stayed in the car with Dulce’s young aunt to finish homework. It was the last time anyone saw Dulce Maria.

"She was wearing flowery pants and some heels, some white heels..."

Dulce’s mother reported her daughter missing in that 911 call shortly after 5PM but an amber alert wasn’t issued until 10PM the following day. It described the child, who was last seen wearing a yellow shirt with a koala on the front, black and white pants with butterflies and flowers on them, and white dress sandals, being lured into a red van with sliding doors and tinted windows by a light skinned, possibly Hispanic male, 5 foot, 6 inches.

"She’s nice, she’s caring, she likes to give a bunch of love and she’s shy," Noema says. Lopez asked the young mother, "What’s the best thing about her? What do you miss the most about her?"

"When she tells me she loves me and gives me hugs," says Noema, "I have faith that she’s still alive and that she’s going to come back home."

Today, police are urging the man in this sketch, and anyone who recognizes him, to come forward. But after Noema’s boyfriend was brought into ICE custody (and later released) to be questioned, members of the community tell PBS39 News there is heightened fear of law enforcement and deportation among the city’s undocumented residents.

Dulce's grandparents "don’t have their papers; they’re not legal here," says the family's spokesperson, Jackie Rodriguez, "They’re scared and they’re not the only ones, there are many out there in the city of Bridgeton that feel the same way that are in the same shoes. I fee like a lot of people are afraid to speak because of that problem."

"Some people are supportive, some people are not. When this first came out, some rumors came out that I sold my daughter but that was never true," explains Noema, "I don’t know where they got that from. They started saying that I had something to do with it but I didn’t do nothing bad to my daughter. The only mistake I made was not getting out of the car and being with her."

Dulce is one of 60 active missing child cases in the Garden State. But in neighboring Pennsylvania, there are more than double (123). And while all cases of missing children are devastating, there’s a startling trend when it comes to kids of color…

"About 60% of the children that are reported missing today in the United States are children of color," explains Robert Lowery, Vice President of the Missing Children's Division at the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, "What happened to Dulce was an extremely rare occurrence. It only happens a handful of times across the nation each year but one child under this circumstance is one too many."

There are 123 missing children in Pennsylvania; 56 of them are white, 38 are Black and 22 are Hispanic. But considering black children make up only 13% of the child population in the state, why do they account for 31% of active missing children cases? Hispanic children account for 11% of the population under 18 in the state but are 18% of missing kids here.

"What are some indications or clues that we might have as to why these statistics are--or the disparity is the way it is among communities of color?" asks Lopez.

"I think it has a lot to do with the media attention some of these cases seem to attract and the attention that does garner the public’s attention but we’ve always been concerned that communities of color are reluctant to report their children missing," Lowery says, "Socio-economic drivers could be there, the fact that they don’t have the resources themselves to go out and conduct a search that you might be able to see in other communities. But one particular demographic that does concern me is the Hispanic-Latino children, especially those who are undocumented and are reluctant to call police when their children are missing out of fear of deportation."

In these cases, investigators rely on the public's help for information. In the month after Dulce's disappearance, more than a thousand tips poured in; leading hundreds of investigators to more than 200 locations; following up on any and all leads. One of them came from The Family Thrift Shoppe in Hellertown, Pennsylvania; where a customer believed they spotted the child inside.

Employees of the store tell us the tip was reported several weeks ago. The Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office, who is leading the investigation, confirms it was followed up on but wouldn’t elaborate beyond that. Today, Dulce Maria’s missing flyer is hanging inside the shop. Investigators tell us the child’s disappearance is an ongoing investigation and they are encouraged by the tips that two months later continue to be reported. One bit of information could change everything in this case.

"This person who called in this tip about potentially seeing Dulce is vitally important," says Lowery, "We are extremely encouraging of that person and kudos to them for picking up the phone and making that call and that notification."

Now, on the two month anniversary of Dulce’s disappearance, a group held another vigil; to remind the public (and whoever took Dulce) their search isn’t over. But for Dulce Maria’s family, their heartache won’t be over until the girl with the ‘sweet’ name and the sweeter smile comes home.

Lopez asked Noema, "What do you pray for at night?"

She said, " For her safety, that she’s okay and everything because one thing I know is that she didn’t like sleeping by herself or sleeping in the dark."

To which Lopez responded, "So as her mom, knowing that like most five year olds, she doesn’t like sleeping by herself or the dark, how do you feel that you don’t know where she is or where she is sleeping or that she could be by herself; how do you feel about that?"

I feel sad because she’s not with us," says Noema, "She’s probably asking why they’re not coming to get me. Why are they taking too long to come and get me?"

"I can’t help but say that, that’s not true right? Because there are so many people out there that are looking for her and want her to come home safe," Lopez asks, "So what is something that you want Dulce to know; if she could see this and if she could hear you, what would you say to her?"

"That we’re looking for her and we’re not going to stop looking for her until we find her and she’s back with us," the girl's mother said, "That we all miss her a lot."

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Dulce Maria Alavez is urged to contact the Bridgeton Police Department at 856-451-0033 or text information to TIP411 with the subtext Bridgeton. The child remains on the FBI’s most wanted list for kidnapped or missing persons and a reward for information now stands at 52 thousand dollars. Volunteers are organizing another search of the area Dulce was last seen; updates on that can be found on the group's Facebook page. A GoFundMe has been set up and approved by the girl's family as well.

Got a news tip? Email K.C. at