Editor's Note (Sept. 18, 2019, 11:25 a.m.): This story is no longer being updated. Click here for the latest on the search for the missing 5-year-old.
An Amber Alert has been issued for a young girl who was taken while visiting a South Jersey park.
Police and volunteers in Bridgeton, New Jersey, spent Tuesday searching for 5-year-old Dulce María Alavez after releasing her photos on Monday night. The search was called off for the night around 7:30 p.m., but an Amber Alert was later issued with information on a possible suspect after police re-interviewed people who were at the park at the time.
The girl, who has dark hair tied back in a ponytail and stands around 3-foot, 5-inches tall, was last seen in Bridgeton City Park Monday afternoon while wearing a yellow shirt, black and white checkered pants with a flower design and white dress sandals, police said Tuesday morning while updating her description.
In the late Tuesday night Amber Alert, police announced that Alavez was taken by a light-skinned, possibly Hispanic, male, standing between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-8, with a thin build, no facial hair, and acne on his face, wearing orange sneakers (possibly Nike), red pants and a black shirt. The man led Dulce from the playground to a red van with a sliding side door and tinted windows. Dulce was placed in the back seat by the man who drove away with her at about 4:20 p.m., police said.
The Amber Alert warnings were sent out to cellphone users in both New Jersey and neighboring Pennsylvania.
Prior to her abduction, the girl had arrived to the Bridgeton City Park with her mother, her 3-year-old brother and her 8-year-old aunt Monday afternoon, Bridgeton Police Chief Michael Gaimari said.
The mother, Noema Alavez Perez, 19, let the younger children run out of the car toward a playground area while she and the other child remained in the car, police said.
Each child had an ice cream in hand as they ran toward the playground, Alavez Perez said.
About 10 minutes later, the mother saw the 3-year-old boy upset and crying, his ice cream on the ground and his sister nowhere to be found. The boy pointed behind some buildings saying his sister went that way, Alavez Perez said.
"I thought she was just playing hide-and-seek, that she was playing in the woods," Alavez Perez said.
The mother called family members and they began to search the park and playground area. Afraid that someone had taken Dulce Maria, Alavez Perez said they called police around 4:50 p.m. Officers immediately began to search for the girl.
"We conducted an extensive search last night," Gaimari said Tuesday morning. The search utilized a New Jersey State Police helicopter and police K-9s.
The girl's mother, who is not considered a person of interest, remained with police through Monday night, Gaimari said.
Family members and people from the community continued to search the park Tuesday morning, playing ice cream truck music and calling out 'Dulce' in hopes of getting the missing girl's attention as they scoured the woods and park facilities. At one point they gathered in a prayer circle.
About 50 police officers also carried out a grid search Tuesday morning, investigators said. Crews also searched the woods and dive teams searched waterways in the large park. Police also towed away Alavez Perez's car from the park Tuesday night though they did not reveal the reason why.
Search parties remained in the park into Wednesday morning.
Dulce María's family just wants her home safe.
"I’m begging whoever has her to bring her back," grandmother Norma Alavez said through translation. "She’s innocent, she’s little, I don’t know why they did this.”
Tips have been coming in from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but so far the girl remains missing.
Anyone with information about the disappearance should contact Bridgeton police at 856-451-0033 or call your local police.