The family of missing 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez, who disappeared from a New Jersey park Monday afternoon, issued a plea to the public for help in finding the young girl.
“Please if you have any information, help us find my granddaughter,” Dulce’s grandmother tearfully said in Spanish, according to Fox News. “Do not be afraid of the police. We have not been able to eat nor sleep. You can’t imagine what we are going through. We are very sad. Please help our family, I beg of you.”
The family delivered the plea Thursday, days after Dulce disappeared from a Bridgeton park around 5 p.m. Monday while playing with her 3-year-old brother.
As the search continues, the reward for information in the case has reached $25,000 and investigators say they are looking into all possible angles and have asked anyone who may have information about the young girl’s disappearance to come forward.
“Our hope and expectation is that anyone who thinks that 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,” Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said in a press conference Thursday, according to WPVI.
Dulce’s mother, Noema Alavez Perez, said she took Dulce, her son and her 8-year-old sister to a convenience store to buy ice cream Monday afternoon before heading to the park. Surveillance footage from the convenience store shows Dulce picking her ice cream and then happily playing with her brother in the store.
According to Perez, once at the park, Dulce was playing on the nearby swings with her brother while she sat in the car with her sister. Just a few minutes later, her son came up crying and said he couldn’t find Dulce. The family began scouring the park before calling police—who also launched a massive search effort to try to find the young girl.
"I went looking for her and couldn't find her and I called the cops," Alavez Perez told the local station. "They were looking for her all night. The dogs were out here.”
Authorities have said witnesses reported seeing a Hispanic male leading Dulce into a red van with a sliding door.
Investigators—including the FBI—are now searching for a man they have described as having light skin with a thin build, no facial hair and acne on his face, according to a statement from the police department. The man, who is described as being between 5’6” and 5’8”, was wearing orange sneakers, red pants and a black shirt.
"We are attempting to identify a male who was in the park at the time Dulce went missing," Webb-McRae said Thursday, according to Fox News. "We need to speak to this person and feel that he may have information that will greatly assist us in this investigation. This person may not even realize that they have important information that may be able to help us locate Dulce."
While authorities hope to speak with the man seen that day at the park, they say they are exploring all possibilities in the disappearance as the search for Dulce stretches on.
On Friday morning, investigators had a large presence at the Bridgeton park where Dulce disappeared, as they scoured a wooded area near the playground where she had been last seen playing with her brother, WPVI reports.
Dulce is described as a Hispanic female approximately 3’5” with a medium build. She was last seen wearing a yellow shirt, black and white checkered long pants with a flower design and white sandals, police said.
Anyone with information about her whereabouts is urged to contact authorities.