THE disappearance of a five-year-old girl has continued to baffle law enforcement four years after she vanished from a park without a shred of evidence – a case a private investigator describes as “old school.”
On the afternoon of September 16, 2016, Dulce Maria Alavez and her three-year-old brother were playing at Bridgeton City Park in Cumberland County, New Jersey, about an hour south of Philadelphia.
Mom Noema Alavez Perez sat in her car just steps away from the park’s entrance, helping her younger sister with her homework as her children played on the swings.
A short time later, when Perez went to check on her kids, she found her son, Manny, alone in the playground, crying – Dulce was nowhere in sight.
Perez desperately scoured the area for her daughter, calling police to report her missing child.
Bridgeton police believe a man took Dulce from the park, but days passed without any leads.
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A month after the five-year-old disappeared, Bridgeton police released a sketch image of a person of interest, described as a Hispanic man about five feet seven inches tall.
Detectives have followed dozens of tips, interviewed several people, and traveled to 11 different states, including visits to Mexico – but four years have passed without an arrest or a suspect named.
“In the absence of evidence confirming Dulce’s demise investigators hold out hope that Dulce is still alive,” Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae and Bridgeton Police Chief Michael Gaimari said in a joint statement.
Trent Steele, the co-founder of the Florida-based nonprofit Anti-Predator Project working with the family to help locate Dulce, called the young girl’s case an “old school” disappearance.
“It’s unique in the face that we’ve not seen a disappearance like this in quite a while,” Steele exclusively told The U.S. Sun.
“A lot of disappearances these days that we’ve been involved with involve kids meeting with somebody online, getting involved with someone online.
“This case, I guess you can call an old-school disappearance – kid goes to the park and disappears.
“We have not seen a lot of these in recent years that don’t have any attachment to it in terms of technology,” Steele added.
Steele – whose team is involved in several high-profile missing persons cases, including the reappearance of 18-year-old Alicia Navarro from Glendale, Arizona – said Dulce’s case is eerily similar to that of 20-year-old Lauren Spierer.
Spierer, a sophomore at Indiana University at the time, disappeared on June 3, 2011, following a night out with her friends at a local sports bar in Bloomington, Indiana, 51 miles south of Indianapolis.
Surveillance footage captured Spierer and her friend, Corey Rossman, intoxicated, exiting Kilroy’s Sports bar at around 2.30am that day.
The two returned to Spierer’s apartment before heading to Rossman’s place at the North Townhomes a few minutes later.
Rossman and his roommate told police they attempted to persuade Spierer to stay over their place for her safety, but she decided to walk home at around 4.30am.
Spierer was last seen wearing a white T-shirt and black leggings, walking barefoot south on College Avenue, about two-and-a-half blocks from her home.
The 20-year-old has never been found.
Steele puts Dulce and Spierer’s cases among the very small percentage where no evidence has turned up years after their disappearances.
“I think the obvious similarities between the two is that they’ve both been gone for an extended amount of time, and there’s never been nothing, absolutely nothing recovered – not a body, not a shoelace, an artifact of clothing, nothing,” he told The U.S. Sun.
“It’s not uncommon for people to go missing; it happens every day across this country, but usually if they’re not found alive within a fairly short amount of time, then usually a body turns up, or something turns up.
“But the fact that both Lauren and Dulce have been missing for years with absolutely no trace of anything. It puts them in a very small percentage of cases where that happens.”
Twelve years after their daughter’s disappearance, the Spierer family still hopes to uncover what happened to Lauren that fateful spring morning.
Parents Robert and Charlene Spierer continue to pay tribute to their missing daughter on a Facebook page dedicated to Lauren.
The Spierer family declined to comment when approached by The U.S. Sun.
‘FRESH SET OF EYES’
Steele, who got involved in Dulce’s case after being contacted by the family early this year, said he and his team are looking to rebuild the investigation from the ground up.
“Everybody here works the first 48 hours all the time,” Steele told The U.S. Sun.
“The first 48 hours of anything like that are the most critical. We’re at a point now where I think it’s most important to go back and rebuild this thing the right way with fresh eyes.
“Maybe bring some new technology into play, and redo this investigation from the bottom up, and look at it with some fresh eyes, some fresh opinions, and see where that takes us.
“I think the most important thing here is to make sure things are done thoroughly, make sure things are done right, and to make sure that we incorporate fresh eyes and opinions on the case.”
Steele said he and his team have a “few working theories” about what may have happened to the five-year-old but cannot get into detail for the sake of the investigation.
Investigators with the Anti-Predator Project will be in Bridgeton City Park on Saturday, reexamining the crime scene and speaking to any witnesses who may have remembered seeing Dulce on the day of her disappearance.
Anyone with information about Dulce’s disappearance is asked to contact Bridgeton police at 856-451-0033.
Witnesses can also contact Anti-Predator Project, who are not involved with Bridgeton police, by calling 205-796-4859 or emailing email@example.com.