Girl, 5, abducted: NJ officials urge immigrants not to fear cops
BRIDGETON — The search for a 5-year-old girl who authorities believe was abducted from a city playground on Monday could be complicated by the fact that many people in this community may fear federal immigration authorities.
The grandmother of Dulce Maria Alavez joined Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae on Thursday afternoon in a plea for information and to assuage any fears about coming forward.
Webb-McRae said authorities are not inquiring about anybody's immigration status.
"We only want information that will bring Dulce home," the prosecutor said.
The girl's grandmother, Norma Alavez, was the only family member present and made a brief statement in Spanish before bursting into tears
"If you have any information, please help bring my granddaughter home," Alavez said through a translator. "Do not be afraid of the police. You cannot imagine what we are going through. Please help our family. I beg of you."
Webb-McRae had little information in terms of an update on the search, but said that time is of the essence as the trail runs cold.
Police said Dulce disappeared from City Park with a man said to be driving a red van. State Police on Thursday morning said that the statewide Amber Alert issued on Tuesday night was still in effect but said they had no definite leads.
Noema Alavez Perez, Dulce's mother, told NJ.com earlier on Thursday that the man who fathered the child she is currently five months pregnant with was interviewed by investigators. She told NJ.com that the man was then taken into custody by ICE agents and transported to a facility in Newark. Dulce's father is in Mexico, officials have said.
ICE and Bridgeton police did not return requests for more information about what the mother had said. McRae-Webb referred questions to Bridgeton police.
Bridgeton has one of the highest concentrations in the state of immigrants. About 1 in 5 people in this city are not U.S. citizens, according to U.S. Census data, although many of them could still be in the country legally.
Webb-McRae said Thursday that her office has Spanish-speaking officials helping investigators speak with potential witnesses.
The apprehension that some immigrant neighborhoods have in cooperating with law enforcement was a driving force behind the state Attorney General's Office issuing guidelines last year that limit local police and jail cooperation with federal immigration authorities and civil immigration cases.
Webb-McRae said Thursday that investigators want to learn more about the man suspected of leading Alavez to a red van late Monday afternoon and driving off. The man was described as light-skin and possibly Hispanic wearing orange shoes.
The prosecutor appealed to anyone who was at the park to contact them.
"Our hope and expectation is that anyone who thinks they saw anything that was remotely suspicious or could contribute to the return of Dulce to her family, we're asking them, we're appealing to them, we're encouraging them to come forward and give us that information," Webb-McRae said, adding that no detail is too small.
Webb-McRae said that sonar, dive teams, State Police helicopters and K9 units have been part of the search.
Anyone with information should call 800-CALL FBI (225-5324) option 4, option 8. Webb-McRae said earlier phone issues with the FBI's line have been resolved.
More than $20,000 in reward money has been put up for information leading to the whereabouts of Dulce, including $5,000 from the FBI, $5,000 from the Prosecutor's Office and $10,000 from Newfield National Bank. Earlier, Tortilleria El Paisano put up a $5,000 reward while the Lakewood Scoop offered $1,000.
"It’s a small reward in the scope of a precious life," a spokesman for The Lakewood Scoop told New Jersey 101.5. "It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, and I can only imagine the nightmare the family must be living through. If this helps even a few more people look out for the little girl and hopefully reunite her with her family, it’s well worth it."
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