Authorities have released a new age-progression photo of Dulce Maria Alavez, who vanished from a New Jersey playground in 2019 when she was 5 years old.
September 16 marks the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Dulce, who would be 9 years old today, the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office and the Bridgeton Police said in a joint statement.
The new image is an artist’s rendering from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Investigators say they’re hoping the photo will help bring her home.
“We ask people to keep in mind that this may not be exactly what Dulce looks like now,” the center’s director of communications, Angeline Hartmann, said in a statement. “This is an approximation meant to spark recognition.”
The center generates age progression photos every two years until a missing child turns 18 years old, and then every five years because “their features do not change as much once they reach adulthood,” according to the news release.
New Jersey authorities asked the public to share the image and report any possible sightings, adding “every lead has been and will be investigated.”
“We’re asking everyone to take a look and see if there’s something familiar about this face,” Hartmann said. “Remember, we’re no longer looking for a 5-year-old and a child can change a lot in four years.”
Dulce’s mother, Noema Alavez Perez, told CNN affiliate WUVG on Thursday she had just seen the new image rendering and asked herself, “Has she grown that much already?”
“I remember when she was little, and I said, ‘Oh my God, four years have already passed and I don’t recognize her face (in the image), but I do recognize her eyes,’” Alavez Perez said, according to WUVG. “Her eyes remain the same.”
Dulce was last seen at Bridgeton City Park’s ball fields and playground area on September 16, 2019, CNN previously reported.
Alavez Perez told police Dulce was playing on swings with her 3-year-old brother as she remained about 30 yards away in her vehicle with an 8-year-old relative.
Then, the mother told police she observed the 3-year-old return to the vehicle without his sister.
Police believe a possible suspect described as light-skinned or Hispanic male may have taken Dulce before driving off in a red van with tinted windows and a sliding passenger side door.
Since Dulce disappeared, hundreds of interviews have been conducted and investigators have worked with other agencies in various states and Mexico on the case, according to the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office and Bridgeton Police’s statement.
“In the absence of evidence confirming Dulce’s demise, investigators hold out hope that Dulce is still alive,” the news release stated.