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Search warrants released in Madalina Cojocari disappearance

The documentation relates to search warrants used to search the family home in Cornelius, North Carolina.

CORNELIUS, N.C. — Search warrants connected to the disappearance of Madalina Cojocari, the 11-year-old from Cornelius, North Carolina, who has not been seen since November 2022, were unsealed for the first time Tuesday.

The search warrants were executed to search her family's home and review the cell phone records of both Madalina's mother, Diana Cojocari, and her stepfather, Christopher Palmiter.

The warrants give some more information on the timeline of this investigation and insight into what police were looking for when they searched Madalina’s house. As expected, portions of the documents are redacted and there is not a clear picture of everything investigators took from their searches.

Police had three search warrants for Madalina’s house in Cornelius. Two are from before Diana Cojocari and Christopher Palmiter were arrested and the third is from December 21, when WCNC Charlotte saw investigators leave the house with several bags of evidence.

Investigators were authorized to search the house, cars, and anything on the property. Inside the home, investigators found a portion of the kitchen blocked off by plywood. Palmiter allegedly said the couple planned to make a separate apartment inside the home. 

Documents show they were specifically looking for anything having to do with Madalina’s disappearance, including any documents related to travel, DNA samples and clothing. They did discover a backpack and some items from Madalina were missing during their search. 

The list of evidence seized is largely redacted but we do know police took three iPhones.

“I’m sure they’ve already taken the computers -- all of their devices. They’ve probably done a very thorough search of all the bedrooms, the basements, the attic," M. Quentin Williams, a former FBI agent who is not associated with this case, told WCNC Charlotte.

While the documentation confirms authorities sought the cell phone records of each parent, it is not clear who owns the third phone. Court documentation indicates the parents told investigators that Madalina did not have her own cell phone.

Williams said cell phone data is likely helping investigators fill in the gaps in the timeline surrounding Madalina’s disappearance. Search warrants show authorities are looking into cell phone data collected from Nov. 1 through Dec. 16, several weeks before Madalina was last seen on video and up until her mother and stepfather were arrested for failure to report a missing child.

“The towers give off a ping. They give off a signal when there’s a switching of towers," Williams explained. "So you can actually monitor the movement of somebody through the towers. So that’s what a carrier will give them."

In the days after Madalina's disappearance, Palmiter told investigators he had traveled to Michigan, according to the investigative documents. Police also announced last week that Diana Cojocari appears to have taken a trip to Madison County, located in the western North Carolina mountains, before reporting her daughter missing.

The probable cause for these search warrants was made up of a lot of information that has already been released. That includes that Christopher Palmiter told police he and Diana Cojocari discussed Madalina's disappearance several times before reporting her missing. Both allegedly told the other they did not know where the girl was, according to court documents.

WCNC Charlotte first reported on the then-sealed search warrants in December after obtaining initial court documents via a public records request.

"[The Cornelius Police Department] and [North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation] continue to conduct their investigation and has obtained search warrants for T-Mobile Call Detail Records associated with the defendants, search warrants for the defendant’s home, and a search warrant for Christopher Palmiter’s mobile device. The search warrant affidavits are extremely detailed and contain many facts not available to the public," the documentation reads. "Given the current level of media attention, release of the search warrants in the above-referenced matter at this time into the public domain could interfere with the rights of Diana Cojocari and Christopher Palmiter to a fair trial. Furthermore, release of the Search Warrant affidavit into the public domain at this stage may interfere with the ability of detectives to recover additional untainted information from witnesses and could hinder the efforts to locate Madalina Cojocari."

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Following an appeal last week, a judge ruled she would release the search warrants but only after they were redacted. Law enforcement and prosecutors were concerned releasing new information about the case could jeopardize the investigation.

Tuesday's new documents confirmed the timeline previously assembled by WCNC Charlotte.

Diana Cojocari and Palmiter were indicted on a charge of failing to report the disappearance of their child. The North Carolina law was established in 2013 after the death of Caylee Anthony in Florida.

Diana Cojocari first reported her daughter missing on Dec. 15, 2022, during a meeting with officials at Bailey Middle School. At the time, she maintained she had not seen Madalina since Nov. 23, 2022.

Law enforcement has previously said the last time they can confirm Madalina was seen in public was two days earlier, Nov. 21, when the girl could be seen on surveillance footage getting off her school bus.

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Both parents remain in custody awaiting future court dates while the search for their daughter continues.

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