Mother of missing New Jersey 5-year-old Dulce Alavez thinks she's still alive

"At first, I thought that she was playing hide-and-seek," Noema Alavez Perez said about her missing daughter, Dulce.
Image: Five-year-old Dulce Alavez was last seen at a New Jersey park in Bridgeton on Sept. 16, 2019.
Five-year-old Dulce Alavez was last seen at a New Jersey park in Bridgeton on Sept. 16, 2019.Bridgeton Police Department

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By Minyvonne Burke

The mother of a 5-year-old New Jersey girl who vanished from a park in September said she has no idea where her daughter could be but thinks she's still alive.

Noema Alavez Perez, 19, discussed her daughter's disappearance in a TV interview on "Dr. Phil" that aired Friday. Perez's daughter, Dulce Alavez, went missing from City Park in Bridgeton on Sept. 16 while playing with her 3-year-old brother.

At the time, Perez was about 30 yards away sitting in a car with her 8-year-old sister. She told Dr. Phil that she was scratching a lottery ticket and got out of her car to check on her children because she could not see them.

When she found her son, he was crying and Dulce was gone.

"At first, I thought that she was playing hide-and-seek," Perez said. "I didn't want to believe that somebody took her."

Dulce was last seen wearing a yellow shirt, black-and-white pants and white sandals.Bridgeton Police Department

The kids had been at the park for five to 10 minutes when Dulce vanished. Perez said she went to check for her daughter behind a building at the park.

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"I came down the path looking for her, yelling her name and she wasn't answering," she said.

Perez told Dr. Phil that she regrets not keeping a closer eye on her children while they were playing at the park.

"You're daughter was kidnapped while you were scratching a lottery ticket?" Dr. Phil asked. "Looking back on it, does it seem like a bad decision?"

"Yes," Perez responded.

Investigators initially said that they were searching for a man, possibly Hispanic, who they said was seen leading Dulce from the park to a red van with a sliding door and tinted windows. In an Oct. 4 update on the case, Bridgeton police said that more 500 vehicles had been investigated and over 200 locations searched but there had been no signs of the man or Dulce.

During the interview, Dr. Phil addressed several rumors surrounding the case including one that Perez and her family were involved in Dulce's disappearance. Perez denied the rumor and said police had her take a polygraph test, for which she said she has not seen the results.

According to Perez, police began to question her and her family because of such rumors and because Perez had seemed calm in public.

"I don't know why; I don't cry in front of people," Perez said, telling Dr. Phil that she cries in private.

When asked if there was a person Perez believes could be responsible for her daughter's abduction, she said "an old friend" who tried to date her.

"Last time he saw me, me and my daughter together, he just waved at me and said hi. And he asked me if that was my daughter and I told him yes," Perez said, adding that she had no indication the man was "off" or would ever do something like that.

Perez said the man, whom she did not name, kept "trying to get to me" and insisted they date after she rejected him.

Bridgeton police told NBC News on Saturday that there are no updates in the case and they are aware of the "Dr. Phil" interview and were expecting tips as a result of its airing.

In October, the reward for information on Dulce was increased to $52,000.