Madalina Cojocari, 11, disappeared more than a month ago, but police in Cornelius, North Carolina, only became aware of her disappearance 22 days after her last sighting.
"It has been 42 days since Madalina was last seen as she got off of her school bus on 21 November, 2022," the Cornelius Police Department wrote on its Facebook page. "We need your assistance in finding her."
The police have asked anyone with information on the girl’s whereabouts to call the department at 704-892-1363.
Investigators are openly questioning the veracity of the information Madalina’s parents have given them. According to Cornelius Police Captain Jennifer Thompson, investigators believe the girl’s parents know more than they’re providing.
"This is a serious case of a child whose parents clearly are not telling us everything they know," she said.
Chief among the lingering questions over the girl’s disappearance is why her parents failed to notify police she did not return home until 22 days after they last saw her.
After Madalina disappeared in November, her school began asking her mother, Diana Cojocari, why the girl was not in school. On 15 December, Ms Cojocari told a school resource officer that the girl had disappeared, prompting an investigation into her whereabouts.
The last known sighting of Madalina was captured on a school bus security camera, showing her walking down the aisle of her school bus and exiting the vehicle just before 5pm the day she disappeared.
Two days after she was reported missing Madalina’s mother and stepfather, Christopher Palmiter, were arrested and charged with a count of failing to report the disappearance of a child to law enforcement.
Both adults have maintained they have no idea what happened to the girl.
Ms Cojocari told investigators that she and her husband got into a fight the night before the girl’s disappearance, and that in the morning Mr Palmiter had driven to his family’s home in Michigan. She claimed when she went to check on her daughter the morning of 24 November, she was gone.
She said she waited until Mr Palmiter had returned two days later to ask if he knew where her daughter was located. Ms Cojocari told investigators she waited to report that the girl was missing because she "was worried it might start a ‘conflict’" with Mr Palmiter.
Madalina’s mother also told investigators that Mr Palmiter "put her family in danger," though she reportedly did not expand on those comments.
Since then, the FBI, the Cornelius Police Department, and North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation have been searching for the girl. Ms Thompson said they have followed 250 leads that span numerous states and countries, and have carried out 100 interviews with individuals who might have information on the girl’s whereabouts.
The police captain noted that starting the investigation weeks into the girl’s disappearance caused immediate difficulties.