BRIDGETON — Under repeated pushing by television personality Dr. Phil in an interview aired Friday, the mother of missing 5-year-old Dulce Alavez suggested an "old friend" could have taken her daughter.

But 19-year-old Noema Alavez Perez first told Phil McGraw she didn't know who took her daughter, in an edited interview underscored at times by suspenseful and solemn music.

Also in the interview, a friend who has served has a family spokesperson said she believes Perez knows more than she's let on about the disappearance. The same friend, Jackie Rodriguez, told New Jersey 101.5 that more was said about the "old friend" that hadn't been aired.

Dulce was last seen on Sept. 16 in a Bridgeton park walking toward a red van with a man, police have said a young witness told them. Perez has said she was sitting in her car nearby scratching lottery tickets and helping her own 8-year-old sister with homework.

McGraw asked Perez twice if she had a theory about who may have kidnapped Dulce, and Perez replied "no" each time.

"If you had to name somebody, who would be your first choice?" McGraw asked.

"An old friend I used to know," replied Perez. She described the friend as Hispanic – as are Perez and Dulce – but didn't give a physical description.

"The last time he saw me, me and my daughter together he just waved at me and said hi. He asked me if that was my daughter and I told him yes," Perez told McGraw.

"Is there something that would cause you to say, you know, he'd kind of a little off? I could see where he might do something like this?" McGraw asked.

"No but he was trying to get me but I didn't allow that," Perez said. When McGraw asked, she clarified she meant the person was trying to date her.

She said he "insisted," but she told him no.

Perez didn't name the man or say why, specifically, she thought he could be involved in her daughter's disappearance.

Rodriguez told New Jersey 101.5 after the interview aired that this individual is being investigated, but she could not discuss it. Police have not confirmed that, and the Camden County Prosecutor's Office told New Jersey 101.5 Friday afternoon it couldn't comment on the details of the investigation.

Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae's office said in October that it wanted to speak to a man described as light-skinned, possibly Hispanic, standing about 5 feet 7 inches with a slender build and between 30 to 35 years old. Perez and Rodriguez didn't address the search for that man during the televised interview, and authorities haven't said if there's any connection between him and the "old friend" Perez described.

"We are asking this person (or anyone who may recognize him) to come forward as investigators wish to speak with him as it is believed that he may have information that is helpful in determining the circumstances that led to Dulce’s disappearance," Webb-McRae said. She stressed that the man is a possible witness and not a suspect or person of interest.

Prosecutors have said the description of the man they're seeking is based on a different witness report than that given by the child who said Dulce had gone toward a van. They haven't said who provided that description.

Webb-McRae has not said publicly if someone has come forward.

potential witness sketch released in October 2019 (Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office)
potential witness sketch released in October 2019 (Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office)

Rodriguez said in the Dr. Phil interview she believes that Perez may know more than she is telling anyone because she is too "calm."

"I feel she knows that child is OK. She's missing her but then I felt like she knows she's OK," Rodriguez said.

McGraw gently but directly put tough questions to Perez about what happened and about the investigation.

Perez told McGraw that girls playing on a basketball court told her that a black man called Dulce over toward a building but left her brother behind. She told McGraw that she had taught Dulce to scream if a stranger spoke to her. McGraw asked if that suggests Dulce would have known the person who took her, and Perez agreed.

McGraw said Perez told her police suspected that her family was involved because she didn't cry.  Perez said she took a lie detector test but police did not share the results.

Answering further questions from McGraw, Perez denied selling her daughter, being involved in her disappearance or arranging her kidnapping. McGraw suggested to Perez that her 3-year-old son, who does not speak, witnessed Dulce's abduction. She said the FBI tried unsuccessfully to communicate with him.

Perez and Rodriguez said Dulce's grandparents are upset at Perez because she allowed the children be in the park alone, and think she may know something as well.

Rodriguez told McGraw it's that possible family or community members living in the country illegally may be afraid to come forward because they fear immigration enforcement — though McRae-Webb, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Gov. Phil Murphy have all stressed law enforcement isn't looking to deport or punish people who come forward with information.

McGraw offered his show's staff as an alternative to contacting the authorities with information. He also offered to raise the reward for information on who abducted Dulce to $75,000 if approved by the prosecutor's office.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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