CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As Diana Cojocari, the mother of missing 11-year-old girl Madalina Cojocari, made her first appearance in court Tuesday before a judge, a new court document reveals new and conflicting details in the investigation.
Court document: Parents had a fight before the disappearance
Diana Cojocari told investigators she last saw her daughter inside their Cornelius, North Carolina, home on the night of Wed., Nov. 23 around 10 p.m., according to the arrest report seen Tuesday in court. The date is consistent with information previously made public by investigators. What was learned publically for the first time Tuesday is that Diana Cojocari claimed she and her husband, Christopher Palmiter, had an argument that night after they went to bed.
In interviews with authorities, both Diana Cojocari and Palmiter told investigators he left for Michigan after the argument, according to the document. Although Diana appears to have told officials he left early the next morning, and he allegedly told them he left that same night, both individuals told authorities he made the trip to "pick up items."
Palmiter, who is Madalina's stepfather, told authorities he did not see his stepdaughter the night of the argument, according to the document. Rather he claims he last saw her a week prior.
School officials seek answers
Madalina was last seen exiting a Bailey Middle School school bus on Monday, Nov. 21 around 5 p.m. according to a video released on Dec. 20 by the Charlotte field office for the FBI. After Madalina repeatedly did not show up to class again at Bailey Middle School, the school resource officer and school counselor went to the girl's home on Dec. 12, the arrest sheet explained. The school officials documented that no one answered the door.
On Wednesday, Dec. 14, the school resource officer called Diana Cojocari to request an in-person meeting, the document explains. The mother allegedly told the counselor during that meeting she would appear the next day at the school with her daughter.
North Carolina state law requires school districts to alert the district attorney or Department of Social Services if a child has 10 unexcused absences in a year. The policy is enacted when parents haven't made a good-faith effort to bring the child to school.
School resource officer interviews mother, stepfather
When Diana Cojocari arrived at the school the following day, she did not have Madalina with her, according to the document. In that meeting, the mother revealed for the first time she noticed the girl was missing from her bedroom on Nov. 24 around 11:30 a.m. the morning after the fight with Palmiter, according to the document.
While it had been 22 days since she last saw her daughter, the documentation indicates neither Cojocari nor Palmiter reported Madalina missing until this meeting with the school resource officer.
In the interview with Diana Cojocari at the school, the mother claimed she waited until Sat, Nov. 26, the day Palmiter allegedly returned from Michigan, before asking him about the whereabouts of Madalina. The mother claimed Palmiter said he did not know where the girl was.
Diana Cojocari allegedly told the school resource officer she had not reported the girl missing because she was "worried it might start a 'conflict' between her and Christopher," the document says.
Upon the request of the school resource officer, Palmiter came to the school the same day for an interview.
In his interview, Palmiter also said he did not know the whereabouts of the girl, according to the documentation. He claimed he spoke to his wife several times over the three-week period Madalina was missing. He claimed during those conversations he asked his wife about the girl but Diana repeatedly claimed she did not know the girl's whereabouts, according to the document.
Palmiter alleged both he and his wife asked each other if they had "hidden Madalina," according to the documentation. Both told the other they had not, according to the summary of Palmiter's interview.
Madalina’s disappearance raised questions about if the school followed protocol.
“After that many weeks of not being there… what are the school protocols, what are their policy for reporting that, and should we have stronger measures in place,” said concerned resident Kristi Evatt.
CMS would not comment specifically on the case. However, a spokesperson said after 10 unexcused absences schools request a meeting with the family. If the family is not responsive they will attempt a wellness check.
Appearing before the court
In court Tuesday, Diana Cojocari, who had been arrested along with Palmiter on Dec. 17 for failure to report the girl missing, had her bond raised to $250,000. The prosecutor told the judge Diana Cojocari had been hindering the investigation and was concerned she would continue to hinder the investigation if released. The judge ordered Cojocari to be electrically monitored if she posted bond.
"The statute states if you are a parent or someone who is supervising a child, and that is defined as someone who is under the age of 16, in the statute, that if you don't know the location of that child, for longer than a 24 hour period, you must report that to law enforcement," said Jetton & Meredith, PLLC, Attorney Mark Jetton. "So the statute gives a 24-hour grace period."
Before a different judge Monday, Palmiter also had his bond raised and was accused by the district attorney's office of hindering the investigation.
"Based on what all the allegations are, and based on the facts of this case, it doesn't seem to be an egregious bond," Jetton said.
As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, records showed both Cojocari and Palmiter had not posted bond.
#FindMadalina: The search continues
On Monday, the search area for the missing girl expanded to include Lake Cornelius, a standalone body of water across Interstate 77 from Lake Norman in Cornelius.
“I have seen a couple of boats and I saw them go over there,” said Mandy Todd, who lives nearby. "It seems like they are going along the shoreline."
The FBI has highlighted Madalina Cojocari's disappearance as their "Case of the Week" on their website's homepage this week. The FBI field office in Michigan confirmed to WCNC Charlotte it is assisting the FBI field office in Charlotte with the investigation.
"Certainly if there was any foul play in any of these states, he can be charged in that particular state where that crime committed," Jetton explained. "Then authorities from those states work together. However, there could be some jurisdictional issues in this case, for that short period of time when he was not in North Carolina."
Community members say they are struggling t wrap their hands around Madalina's disappearance.
“It’s obviously devastating for us,” nearby resident Kristi Evatt said. “Especially for it to be so close to home. And for all of us in the area… just concerned about where she is? Is she safe?”
A prayer vigil took place Tuesday night at Smithville Park, which is located on Catawba Avenue just east of Interstate 77.
"Everybody in my group is really close to that neighborhood," one resident told WCNC Charlotte. "A lot of them want to be out there searching, a lot of them want to know what happened."
Cojocari is described as an 11-year-old white female, weighing 90 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes, according to police. She was last seen wearing jeans, pink, purple, and white Adidas shoes, and a white t-shirt and jacket.
Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Madalina Cojocari is asked to contact the Cornelius Police Department at 704-892-7773.
Note: WCNC instituted a new policy in March 2021 regarding the broadcast or posting of mugshots.
WCNC will only air or post a mugshot if the person has been formally charged with a crime and in a few other cases. The exceptions include: If it appears the person could be a danger to themselves or others or if they are wanted by authorities; to differentiate between people with a common name; if the photos could encourage more victims to come forward. The news-editorial leadership may also decide to use a mugshot based on the severity of the crime(s) committed and/or the level of public interest in the crime and ensuing criminal proceedings.
WCNC Charlotte is choosing to show the mugshots of the suspects in the case due to the seriousness of the charges and public interest in the case.