Missing NJ girl Dulce Maria Alavez likely snatched in crime of opportunity: FBI

A New Jersey girl who vanished from a park nearly a year ago was likely snatched by a predator hunting for an opportunity to grab a child, according to a new report.

A lead investigator in the kidnapping of Dulce Maria Alavez shared new details about the case in an interview with NJ Advance Media, as the anniversary of the girl’s disappearance approaches.

“If you are looking for a child to take the child, you go where children are,” said FBI special agent Daniel Garrabrant.

“That’s one of the reasons that we believe that the target was a child — but it may not necessarily have been Dulce.”

The kindergartner — who turned 6 in April — disappeared on Sept. 16 2019, from Bridgeton City Park where she had been playing with her 3-year-old brother Manuel.

Their mom, Noema Alavez Perez, drove them there and remained in her vehicle as the kids ran ahead to the playground 30 yards away. When she caught up a few minutes later, Dulce was gone.

“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,” Garrabrant said.

“The offender felt like it was an opportunity for him to take Dulce and leave with her and that’s what he did.”

The special agent said it’s also possible the kidnapper hadn’t planned to grab a child that day, but saw the opportunity and took it.

“The person’s intent might not have been to take a kid,” said Garrabrant. “It could have been maybe to watch children because that’s what they liked, and the opportunity presented itself and they did what they did.”

Authorities are holding out hope that little Dulce is still alive.

“I’m working under the premise and the assumption that she’s still alive,” said Garrabrant, an East Coast leader for the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team.

Dulce Maria Alavez
Bridgeton Police Department

Investigators previously described the possible suspect as a Hispanic man about 5 feet 8 inches tall and about 30 to 35 years old, with acne, based on witness statements.

“We do have some witnesses that saw a Hispanic male in the park in and around the playground that we have not identified. We don’t know who that is. It’s very possible that it’s the offender,” said Garrabrant.

Shortly after the girl’s disappearance, authorities also said the suspect was seen ushering a girl into a red van. But Garrabrant said his team has received thousands of leads about similar vehicles and none of them panned out.

Agents have spent thousands of hours scouring gigabytes of surveillance video from homes and buildings in the immediate area around the park in search of a suspect vehicle. The park itself doesn’t have cameras.

“We believe that, in all likelihood, we do have a suspect vehicle on video someplace,” said Garrabrant.

A motive for the kidnapping remains unclear. Agents ruled out a custody dispute and stressed that Dulce’s family has been cooperative with the investigation.

It appears unlikely that she was snatched by a family member.

“Think about it, if a family member was going to plan this and take Dulce, it’s super high-risk because it’s in a public park where there could be potentially a lot of witnesses,” said Garrabrant.

Agents believe the abductor likely acted alone and for a self-serving purpose. Young kids who are kidnapped may be taken by someone looking to replace a child who was somehow lost, said Garrabrant, while a sexual motive is often a factor in cases involving teens.

The agent said someone out there knows who took Dulce but they may just not realize it. He asked the public to think of people they know who changed their behavior or habits around the time the girl disappeared.

The suspect might be a regular visitor to parks and behave awkwardly around children. He would have missed work or family get-togethers at the time or may have left town without warning.

He may have made a significant change to his appearance or changed the color of his car.

“I honestly think there are people out there that know who the offender is, interact with the offender and might even describe them as socially awkward or odd,” said Garrabrant.

Folks “may be afraid to say anything because they think, ‘Oh, this person would never take a child.’”

But Garrabrant implored anyone who may have seen something unusual the day of Dulce’s disappearance to come forward. The abductor would likely have been in the park between 4 and 4:30 p.m.

The park is adjacent to two schools, meaning a student may have information without realizing it.

“We really believe that there are people out there that saw something that would be critical for us,” said Garrabrant.

The search remains active locally, nationally and internationally, he said.

Anyone with information about Dulce is asked to call New Jersey State Police at 609-882-2000, ext. 2554, or Bridgeton police at 856-451-0033. Tips may also be phoned in to 1-800-CALL-FBI and select option 4, then select option 8. Anonymous tips may be sent by text to TIP411 with “Bridgeton” in the message line.


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