Cojocari was last seen on Nov. 21, 2022, getting off her school bus in Cornelius, North Carolina, just before the Thanksgiving break. But the sixth grader hasn’t been seen since and it took three weeks for her to be reported missing.
Her mother, 37-year-old Diana Cojocari, and stepfather, 60-year-old Christopher Palmiter, both remain in jail, charged with failure to report the disappearance of a child.
Both Diana Cojocari and Palmiter have said they don’t know what happened to Madalina or where she is, but police say they clearly know more than they are revealing. Authorities have just released new video of the missing girl in an effort to keep her disappearance fresh in the minds of community members.
The footage shows Cojocari doing what she loved most, being outdoors, swimming and interacting with animals.
“Madalina was energetic. She loved the outdoors and animals, specifically horses,” said Cornelius Police Chief David Baucom.
Madalina Cojocari wasn’t reported missing until Dec. 15, 2022, after her school made repeated attempts to reach her family.
“Finding Madalina is our top priority. It has been since she was reported missing and we will continue to search for her until we find her,” Baucom said.
Madalina’s 12th birthday in April was a somber occasion, with the community holding a vigil in her honor.
At their first media briefing in April, police kept a tight lid on details in the case, including whether Madalina’s parents are considered suspects or persons of interest.
“That’s all part of our investigation, and I cannot comment at this time,” Baucom said.
Most of the information available comes from court documents, the most recent from a search in February, when a narcotics dog “alerted” on the driver’s side door of Diana Cojocari’s 2008 Prius. But no drugs were seized from the car.
Phone records show Diana Cojocari had “extensive communication” with a distant relative in her home country of Moldova on Dec. 2, 2022. She reportedly asked for help smuggling Madalina and herself away due to a “bad relationship” with Palmiter.
Police said that relative has ties to drug trafficking investigations.
Nexstar affiliate WJZY in Charlotte, North Carolina, called that relative, who claimed not to speak English.
When asked if there were any indication that Madalina had been transported outside the U.S., police said it was a possibility they were considering.
“At this point, we’re not ruling anything out,” Baucom said.
Neighbors in Cojocari’s affluent lakeside community were shocked by the girl’s disappearance.
“I haven’t seen the mom as much, but I have seen the stepfather out with the daughter, just doing normal walks and bikes and stuff like that, so to say it was a surprise is an understatement,” said neighbor Erin Byrd.
Other documents show police were called to the Cojocari’s house on Nov. 30, a week after Madalina was last seen, for a report of the family burning furniture in the yard.
From the beginning, police have searched the home. They haven’t revealed what they have seized, and have said only that they were looking for any evidence of a kidnapping or violent crime.
Police said Diana Cojocari told them she last saw Madalina on Wednesday night, Nov. 23, 2022. Diana and Palmiter had an argument, and Palmiter drove to his family’s home in Michigan. When Diana went to check on Madalina on Thanksgiving morning, she said her daughter wasn’t there. Diana also reported that a backpack and some clothes were also missing.
When Palmiter got home a few days later, court records indicate that he and Diana Cojocari asked each other about Madalina’s whereabouts. But Diana said she didn’t report her daughter missing because she was concerned it would cause “conflict” with her husband.
“This is a serious case of a child’s parents who clearly are not telling us everything they know.” said Capt. Jennifer Thompson of the Cornelius Police Department.
Police said Diana Cojocari said she believed her husband “put her family in danger.” When police checked the home, they noted an area by the kitchen blocked off with plywood. Palmiter said the couple had planned to make it into a separate apartment.
Police also learned that Diana Cojocari visited the Lone Mountain area in western North Carolina during the three weeks when Madalina was missing, but before her disappearance was reported.
They are hoping to hear from eyewitnesses who saw her or her Prius in that area.
Meanwhile, the community continues to grapple with Madalina’s disappearance.
“It just seemed so normal. It’s just, nothing stands out. You know? It’s kind of the even more confusing part,” Byrd said.
Community members and police are still hoping for a positive outcome.
“We’re hopeful that we will find her and be able to answer all your questions at a future time,” Baucom said.
Diana Cojocari and Christopher Palmiter remain in custody and their next court appearance is set for Aug. 17, 2023. In March, Diana Cojocari was charged with “possession of a controlled substance” while in jail.
At this time, neither Palmiter nor Diana Cojocari is charged with causing Madalina’s disappearance, only with failing to report it to authorities.