Madalina Cojocari was last seen before Thanksgiving. She can be seen on video footage from around 5 p.m. Nov. 21 getting off a school bus.
Her mother and stepfather, though, waited three weeks to report her missing.
What happened during those three weeks is a question that still does not have an answer, and Madalina is nowhere to be found. If police are any closer, they’re not saying so — at least not yet. Most of what is known about this case comes from court records, some of which raise more questions than answers.
Both of Madalina’s parents, Diana Cojocari and Christopher Palmiter, are now in jail and facing charges, though not for anything that specifically happened to Madalina.
In North Carolina, parents and guardians are required to report the disappearance of their child in a timely manner.
For Diana Cojocari and Palmiter, though, by the time they did report that Madalina had disappeared, it was weeks later, and only after her school started asking questions about her whereabouts.
Court records indicate that a counselor and a school resource officer made attempts to reach Madalina’s mother, and that they even dropped by the home after Madalina had been absent for more than 10 days. On Dec. 15, Diana Cojocari showed up at the school without her daughter, saying that Madalina had gone missing.
The town where Madalina is from
Cornelius, North Carolina, Madalina’ lived’s hometown, is just north of Charlotte. Located next to Lake Norman, it’s a place that, even with high-dollar homes nearby, still feels like a small, tight-knit town.
“I’m just hoping so sincerely that we find this little girl,” Woody Washam, the mayor of Cornelius, said.
Neighbors, though, say the people living at Madalina’s home largely kept to themselves.
“I haven’t seen mom quite as much, but I have seen the stepfather out with the daughter, just doing normal walks and bikes and stuff,” Erin Byrd, a neighbor, said.
“I do remember her just playing alone, so I went to play with her, and we just connected,” Kamren Stefan, Madalina’s friend, recalled.
Parents’ stories on when Madalina was last seen conflict
Palmiter and Diana Cojocari eventually did go before the court on their charges. Court records indicate that, after that Nov. 21 video, Madalina was still around. But according to the arrest sheets for both Palmiter and Diana Cojocari, there were conflicts regarding when both parents last saw her.
Palmiter said it was a week before Madalina went missing, while Diana Cojocari said she last saw her daughter on Nov. 23, the same night she and her husband had an argument.
One thing is for certain, though: After that date, no one saw Madalina. Palmiter reportedly took a brief trip to Michigan during this time. During the time between when Madalina was last seen and when she was reported missing, Diana Cojocari reportedly also took a trip, but she went to the mountains of western North Carolina.
Not much is known about the specifics of either of these trips, but when Palmiter and Diana Cojocari were together after Madalina went missing, each was reportedly asking the other where their daughter was.
The arrest report for Diana Cojocari said she had been urged by her family to go to the police, but she did not — reportedly because she didn’t want to cause any issues with her husband, despite her saying that she feared for her family’s safety.
“Nothing stands out,” Byrd said. “It’s kind of the even more confusing part.”
What is known about Madalina’s parents?
What is known about Madalina’s parents? Not much.
Records indicate that Palmiter had lived in Michigan. In North Carolina, the only legal trouble he seemed to have had had to do with traffic violations. Diana Cojocari, though, was from the Eastern European country of Moldova. She appeared on a YouTube series in Moldova back in 2014, where she talked about having been married, divorced and wanting to remarry, but needing to lose weight.
A 3-year-old girl, identified as her daughter, was also on that show.
While the girl wasn’t identified by name, she would now be 11, and is likely Madalina.
In a later video, Diana Cojocari had a ring on her finger. Not much is known about the couple, or their life with Madalina in Cornelius, but that is something that Cornelius police have been working to figure out.
Recently unsealed search warrants show police wanted cellphone records and searches of the home where Madalina lived.
Cellphone search warrants say they were looking for evidence of a kidnapping, text messages, GPS locations. Search warrants for the home show authorities were looking for anything from documents, to weapons, to hairs, bodily fluids or blood.
One of those searches happened Dec. 21. The list of items pulled from the home was redacted by a judge.
While it’s known what police were looking for, there’s no indication if they found that evidence. Legal experts say it is common to cast a wide net on a case like this.
“It appears they don’t have a clear indicator one way or another,” attorney Walter Bowers said. “Certainly, acknowledging the fact that many things remain confidential, but to cover all possibilities you would certainly want to have a search warrant that was broad enough.”
To this day, both Palmiter and Diana Cojocari face only one charge each, failure to report the disappearance of a child to law enforcement, which is a felony.
Cornelius police say the discrepancies in the timeline are something they are trying to clear up, and they are asking for anyone with information to come forward.
“This is a serious case of a child whose parents clearly are not telling us everything they know,” said Capt. Jennifer Thompson of the Cornelius Police Department.