Mother of missing N.J. girl pleads for rumors to stop as search enters third week

Noema Alavez Perez (left), mother of missing 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez, holds her daughter's favorite toy as she speaks to reporters at the Bridgeton City Park.  She is accompanied by her mother, Norma Perez (right). (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

Noema Alavez Perez (left), mother of missing 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez, holds her daughter's favorite toy as she speaks to reporters at the Bridgeton City Park. She is accompanied by her mother, Norma Perez (right). (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

As the search for 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez entered its third week, the missing girl’s mother asked the public to focus on her daughter’s innocence and stop spreading hurtful rumors online.

Noema Alavez Perez held her daughter’s favorite toy — a Queen Elsa doll from the Disney movie Frozen — as she spoke to the media in the same Bridgeton, New Jersey, park where her daughter was apparently abducted on Sept. 16.

Noema Alavez Perez (left) wipes away a tear as she talks to reporters about her missing daughter. Five-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez disappeared from Burlington City Park on Sept. 16. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

“If someone could return my daughter, she’s just an innocent girl,” Alavez Perez said. “She’s just living her child life. She has nothing to do with the problems we had in the past or people we have trouble [with]. Why her? Why does she have to pay the consequences?”

As images of a smiling Dulce and videos of her singing Elsa’s hit song “Let It Go” have spread on social media, encouragement for the family has poured in and strangers have volunteered to help with the search, said Jackie Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the family.

Norma Perez, grandmother of missing 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez, speaks emotionally during a press conference at Burlington City Park, where the girl was last seen playing with her brother. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

But Alavez Perez, who is 19 and of Mexican descent, has also been the target of online criticism, including unfounded allegations that she sold her daughter and was being prostituted by her mother.

A teacher in Vineland is facing discipline for suggesting on Facebook that “Mexican” culture could explain why Dulce wasn’t being watched more carefully at the time she disappeared. Others have questioned Alavez Perez’s parenting based on an old picture of her smoking marijuana, something she says she no longer does.

A memorial to missing 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez was created in the Bridgeton City Park, where she disappeared on Sept. 16. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

Alavez Perez said Monday she rarely leaves home anymore.

“I have not been the same ever since people are saying I have something to do with it,” she said. “This and saying bad things about me. Please stop the rumors. Please stop pointing fingers when you don’t know and we don’t know who took her.”

Investigators say their search is ongoing but have not announced any breakthroughs in the case. Anyone with relevant information, including photos or videos from the Bridgeton City Park on Sept. 16, is encouraged to contact the FBI.

Vera Dover of Bridgeton, a supporter of the Alavez family, hangs a sign at the memorial to Dulce Maria Alavez at Bridgeton City Park, where the 5-year-old disappeared on Sept. 16. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

Authorities are offering a $35,000 reward for information leading to Dulce’s return.

Dulce is about 3 feet tall and was last seen wearing a yellow shirt with a koala on the front, according to the FBI. She was playing on the swings with her younger brother when she vanished. Alavez Perez was sitting in her car with a young relative about 30 yards away. The swings were just out of her view.

One witness said Dulce was led away from the playground and loaded into a red van with a sliding side door and tinted windows by a man police have described as a light-skinned, possibly Hispanic man with acne on his face.

A memorial to missing 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez was created in the Bridgeton City Park, where she disappeared on Sept. 16. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

Alavez Perez said Monday she knows Dulce must miss home because the girl was always scared of the dark and didn’t like sleeping alone. She said she has been looking at pictures of her daughter but wants the real person back.

“I don’t want to keep looking at photos,” she said. “I just want her beside us, our family.”

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