The parents of missing 11-year-old Madalina Cojocari “clearly” aren’t telling police everything they know, according to investigators – as more than a month has now passed since the young girl was last seen.
Cornelius Police Captain Jennifer Thompson gave an update about the case in a video statement posted on Facebook on Tuesday, hours before Madalina’s mother and stepfather were scheduled to appear in court.
“We know everyone has a lot of questions. We also have questions and are doing everything we can, with proper legal authority, to get those answers,” she said.
“This is a serious case of a child whose parents clearly are not telling us everything they know.”
Madalina was last seen on 21 November when surveillance footage captured her getting off a school bus at her home in Cornelius, North Carolina.
For the next three weeks, staff at Bailey Middle School contacted her mother Diana Cojocari to inquire as to her whereabouts when she failed to show up for class.
Finally, on 15 December, Ms Cojocari went to the campus and told a school resource officer that her daughter was missing. School officials then alerted law enforcement, sparking a huge manhunt to find the 11-year-old girl.
Now, almost two weeks into the investigation, the young girl’s whereabouts are still unknown and her mother Ms Cojocari, 37, and stepfather Christopher Palmiter, 60, are behind bars – each charged with one count of failing to report the disappearance of a child to law enforcement.
Both suspects were scheduled to appear in Mecklenburg County Court on Wednesday morning.
In Tuesday’s video statement, Capt. Thompson said that the three-week delay in police being notified about Madalina’s disappearance had put investigators on the back foot from the get-go.
“One of the challenges in this case simply put is we were not notified she was gone – a delay of three weeks,” she said.
In the 12 days since law enforcement launched a “massive investigation” to find Madalina, more than 100 personnel from Cornelius Police Department, the FBI and the SBI have been assigned to the case.
The police captain said that these investigators have so far followed more than 250 leads spanning across both state lines and the globe, carried out 100 interviews with individuals in North Carolina and further afield, and canvassed door to door at about 245 homes and businesses in the Victoria Bay neighbourhood around Madalina’s home.
Investigators have also “scoured” hours of surveillance video from local businesses and carried out land and water searches around nearby Lake Cornelius, she said.
Multiple search warrants have also been obtained and executed at Madalina’s home.
Since their arrests on 17 December, Madalina’s parents have continued to insist that they don’t know where the 11-year-old went or what has happened to her.
Ms Cojocari and Mr Palmitter both claim that they last saw Madalina on 23 November.
Investigators have been unable to verify this claim with the last confirmed sighting of the 11-year-old being two days earlier when she was spotted in surveillance footage getting off her school bus at her stop at 4.59pm on 21 November.
Court documents obtained by WBTV reveal that Madalina’s mother told investigators she last saw her daughter at around 10pm on 23 November when Madalina went to her room to go to bed.
Ms Cojocari claims that she and her husband got into an argument that night and the next morning he drove to his family’s home in Michigan, according to the arrest warrant.
When she then went to check on her daughter at about 11.30am on 24 November, Ms Cojocari claims she found her to be missing.
The arrest warrant states that Ms Cojocari told investigators she then waited until Mr Palmitter returned home – two days later on the evening of 26 November – to ask if he knew where Madalina was.
When asked why she didn’t report her daughter missing before mid-December, she “stated she was worried it might start a ‘conflict’ between her and Christopher,” the warrant states.
Ms Cojocari also claimed that she believed her husband had “put her family in danger”. It is not clear what she meant by this statement.
Meanwhile, Mr Palmiter also told investigators that he doesn’t know what happened to his stepdaughter, claiming that he returned from his three-day trip and asked his wife where Madalina was.
Over the next three weeks, he claims to have spoken with Ms Cojocari "”several time[s] about Madalina’s whereabout[s] … and both stated they did not know where she was but they did not contact the police to report Madalina missing”.
Several questions remain around why it took the parents a staggering 22 days to report Madalina missing, with the missing child’s “shocked” family members saying that they are “devastated and absolutely heartbroken” over her disappearance.
In a handwritten note shared by Cornelius Police last week, the unnamed relatives said they were holding onto “hope and positivity” that the young girl will still be found safe.
“We, as a family, are devastated and absolutely heartbroken to learn that Madalina is missing,” the note reads.
“We love Madalina and are shocked by these circumstances. This is something no child or family should ever have to endure.”
The note goes on to say that the family is doing everything possible to find Madalina and “bring her home”.
“Madalina is a beautiful, smart, kind and loving 11-year-old girl with greatness in her future,” it says.
“We are desperate to find her right now, she needs ALL of our help.”
It is not clear which family member wrote the heartwrenching note, but an FBI official confirmed to WBTV that it was not Madalina’s mother or stepfather.
Multiple searches have been carried out at the family home, with search teams spotted digging up the backyard.
Inside the property, officials found a secret area in the kitchen blocked off with plywood, according to court documents.
When asked about it, Mr Palmiter allegedly told investigators that he had been planning to make a separate apartment in the space.
It is unclear if the search teams removed the boards and scoured that particular area of the property.
A neighbour told local outlet WCCB that the young girl’s disappearance has shocked the neighbourhood.
“I’ve lived here my whole life so I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Sydney Capps. “It’s odd that it seems like she went missing back in November, and it’s just now being reported.”
Madalina was last seen wearing jeans, pink, purple and white Adidas shoes, and a white t-shirt and jacket.
She is described as having brown hair and brown eyes, being 4 feet 10 inches tall, and weighing around 90 pounds.
Anyone with information about Madalina’s whereabouts is asked to call the Cornelius Police Department at 704-892-7773.