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Search Launched For Missing 11-Year-Old Girl After Parents Fail To Report Her Disappearance For Nearly A Month

Cornelius, NC – The mother and stepfather of an 11-year-old girl who has been missing for nearly one month have been arrested for failing to contact police about her alleged disappearance, according to investigators.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said the last “independent confirmation” of when 11-year-old Madalina Cojocari was last seen was on Nov. 21 at 4:59 p.m., when security footage captured her getting off of her school bus at her bus stop.

Madalina’s mother, 37-year-old Diana Cojocari, later told investigators she hadn’t seen her daughter since Nov. 23, but that claim came only after Charlotte-Mecklenburg School employees repeatedly contacted Cojocari to inquire about Madalina being absent from school, the Cornelius Police Department (CPD) said in a press release.

“After repeated contact, Diana Cojocari went to Bailey Middle School on December 15, 2022, and reported to the School Resource Officer, Madalina was missing,” the CPD said.

Police arrested Cojocari and her husband, 60-year-old Christopher Palmiter, on Dec. 17 on charges of failure to report the disappearance of a child to law enforcement, ABC News reported.

Parents are required to report the disappearance of a child to police within 24 hours under North Carolina state law, News Nation reported.

According to court records, Cojocari claimed to have last seen her daughter at their home at approximately 10 p.m. on Nov. 23, WCNC reported.

Cojocari said she and Palmiter got into an argument after they went to bed that night, and both she and Palmiter later told investigators that he left the home after the fight and went to Michigan to “pick up some items,” according to police.

A school counselor and the school resource officer went to the family’s home on Dec. 12 after Madalina failed to attend classes for weeks, WCNC reported.

They said no one answered the door when they arrived, according to court documents.

Under North Carolina law, school districts must notify the Department of Social Services or the district attorney’s office if a child has 10 unexcused absences from school in one year, WCNC reported.

The school district also requests a meeting with the family after 10 unexcused absences, and must attempt to conduct a wellness check on the child if the family does not respond or cooperate, according to the news outlet.

The school resource officer made contact with Cojocari by phone on Dec. 14 and asked to meet with her in person, and she allegedly assured him that she and Madalina would come to the school the next day, WCNC reported.

But when Cojocari showed up at the school on Dec. 15, she was alone, police said.

She allegedly told the school resource officer that day that her daughter had been missing for weeks, WCNC reported.

Cojocari said she realized at approximately 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 24 – the day after her fight with Palmiter – that her daughter wasn’t in her room, according to court documents.

She claimed she did not bother to ask Palmiter if he knew where her daughter was until he returned home from the alleged trip to Michigan on Nov. 26, investigators said.

Cojocari allegedly told police that Palmiter told her he didn’t know where Madalina was.

According to investigators, Cojocari said she decided not to report the 11-year-old’s disappearance because she was “worried it might start a ‘conflict’” between her and Palmiter, WCNC reported.

Palmiter agreed to meet with the school resource officer later the same day and allegedly told him he had no idea where Madalina was, WCNC reported.

He said he and Cojocari asked one another multiple times where she was and that they both asked if the other had “hidden” her, according to court documents.

Palmiter said they both denied having any knowledge of her whereabouts, police said.

The FBI and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) are also assisting with the search for the missing sixth-grader.

The search expanded to the Lake Cornelius area on Monday, where police conducted “additional land and water searches as a precautionary measure,” the CPD said in a Facebook update.

The FBI featured Madalina as its “Most Wanted: Case of the Week,” the police department said on Tuesday.

Prosecutors said during a court hearing on Tuesday that Cojocari has been hindering investigators and expressed concern she will continue to do so if she is released from jail, WCNC reported.

Her bond was raised to $250,000 and the judge ordered she submit to electronic monitoring if she is released.

Palmiter’s bond was raised by a different judge later that day on the same grounds, WCNC reported.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin

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