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Missing Cornelius 11-year-old Madalina Cojocari: Timeline of her disappearance

After mother Diana Cojocari and stepfather Christopher Palmiter were arrested, many questions have been raised about the events leading up to her disappearance.

CORNELIUS, N.C. — As a convoluted and haunting story unfolds surrounding missing 11-year-old Madalina Cojocari from Cornelius, North Carolina, newly released arrest documents help outline the events leading up to her disappearance. Below is a timeline of the events as reported by law enforcement, witness statements to officials and court proceedings.

Nov. 21, 2022 - Madalina's last day

This appears to be the last day Madalina Cojocari was at school, according to what Mrs. D. Lampkin, who is a sixth-grade school counselor at Bailey Middle School in Cornelius, North Carolina, told authorities. Video later released by the FBI on Dec. 20 confirms her leaving the school bus at 4:59 p.m. this day.

Nov. 22, 2022 - Conflicting dates

According to an arrest record, the mother of missing 11-year-old Cornelius girl Madalina Cojocari, Diana Cojocari, told police she last saw Madalina at noon this day. But later in that same arrest record, Diana changes her story and said she last saw her on Nov. 23 at 10 p.m. instead.

Nov. 23, 2022 - Madalina last seen

Diana Cojocari claims later in the same arrest record that she actually last saw Madalina at home this day around 10 p.m. when she went to bed. Diana told police later that she and Madalina's stepfather Christopher Palmiter fought that evening.

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Nov. 23, 2022 - Stepfather leaves town

In arrest records later revealed, Christopher Palmiter claims he drove to Michigan this night to "pick up items." In those same records, he told police he hadn't seen Madalina for a week prior to this.

It was on this morning that Diana Cojocari claims to police she first noticed her daughter was missing.

Nov. 24, 2022 - When did the stepfather leave?

Diana Cojocari tells police in those same arrest records that Christopher Palmiter actually left for Michigan early on Nov. 24, not on Nov. 23 as he stated. 

Nov. 26, 2022 - Stepfather returns

Christopher Palmiter says he returned this evening and asked Diana where Madalina was, and Diana said she didn't know where she was. Christopher told authorities he told Diana he didn't know where Madalina was either. They both reportedly accuse each other of hiding Madalina. Neither reports her missing at this time. Christopher tells authorities he asked Diana many times where Madalina was over the following weeks, but neither still knew where she was. 

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Between Nov. 22 and Dec. 15 - Mother visits the mountains

In January, the Cornelius Police Department asked anyone who may have witnessed Diana Cojocari traveling to call investigators. Police believe that at some point between Nov. 22 and Dec. 15 Diana may have driven a Toyota Prius to Madison County, North Carolina.


Dec. 12, 2022 - SRO home visit

Bailey Middle School Resource Officer J. Nobles and Mrs. D. Lampkin reportedly visit the home of Madalina Cojocari because she had been truant since Nov. 21. No one answers the door, so they leave a truancy packet at the home.

Dec. 14, 2022 - Truancy meeting held

The sixth-grade school counselor calls Diana Cojocari in to meet about Madalina. The counselor told police that Diana Cojocari said she would bring Madalina to school tomorrow to discuss her recent truancy.

Dec. 15, 2022 - Madalina reported missing

Diana Cojocari arrives at the school without Madalina, so the sixth-grade school counselor calls the school resource officer into the meeting. Diana reportedly says Madalina has been missing since Nov. 22 at noon. Diana later says she actually last saw Madalina on Nov. 23 a 10 p.m. 

Dec. 15 2022 - First home search

Detectives visit the home, where they discover part of the kitchen is blocked off with plywood. Palmiter tells the detectives he was building a separate apartment, per court documents. 

A search warrant is executed to search other areas of the home.

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Dec. 16, 2022 - FBI brought in to help

As investigators return to the home to continue executing a search warrant, the FBI confirms they are helping with the investigation into Madalina's disappearance. Inside the home, police find the girl's backpack and some clothes missing.

Dec. 17, 2022 - Mother, stepfather arrested

Cornelius Police announce Christopher Palmiter has been arrested. Diana Cojocari is arrested later that day.

Dec. 19, 2022 - Palmiter in court

Christopher Palmiter appears in court. His bond is increased to $200,000.

Dec. 19, 2022 - Lake searched

The search for Madalina expands to an area that includes Lake Cornelius.

Dec. 20, 2022 - Cojocari in court

Diana Cojocari makes her first appearance in court before a judge. Her bond is increased to $250,000.

Dec. 20, 2022 - New documents revealed

A new court document reveals new and conflicting details in the investigation, including what happened leading up to Madalina's disappearance and how she was eventually reported missing.

Dec. 21, 2022 - Cornelius Police return to home of Madalina Cojocari

Dozens of investigators returned to the Cornelius home of missing 11-year-old girl Madalina Cojocari and stayed for hours, with police leaving the house with at least one bin of evidence.

Dec. 22, 2022 - Madalina's family issues statement

The family issues a statement through the Cornelius Police Department thanking the community for support. "This is something no child or family should have to endure," the statement says.

Dec. 23, 2022 - FBI releases new photos of Madalina 

In one of the photos, Madalina is seen with a horse during an apparent horseback lesson. In the other, she's on the beach with toy horses. "Earlier this week, we told you Madalina loves horses," an FBI tweet says. "You can see the pure joy she feels when she takes her plastic ponies to the beach. And she enjoys riding the real pony named Rayne." 

Dec. 28, 2022 - Madalina's mom, stepfather offer to surrender their passports

Diana Cojocari and Christopher Palmiter were expected to appear in court this day, however the judge announced there would not be a bond hearing for Madalina's mother afterall, but mentioned that she did surrender her passport. The judge said the state would take no action on the bond but added a condition that Madalina's stepfather Christopher Palmiter must surrender his passport, too.

Dec. 30, 2022 - Search warrant executed to search Madalina's home still not available for public view

The search warrant could give more insight into what police know. Keeping those details from the public could be a way to protect the investigation.

Jan. 10, 2023 - Search warrants unsealed

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, Jan. 10, 2023.

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.

Jan. 10, 2023 - Forensic psychologist offers insight 

Diana Cojocari and Christopher Palmiter have been in custody for a little more than a month at this point.

A Charlotte-area forensic psychologist says that’s very likely taking a toll as investigators still work to get more information from them, especially on what happened in the three weeks Madalina was not reported missing.

“Initially, parents might go through denial that the child is missing, sometimes you see that," Lisa Long, PsyD, said. "You also could consider the parent might be experiencing embarrassment or shame due to guilt. There might be situations where the parent is experiencing fear, they’re concerned that DSS would get involved with their family and they might lose custody."

This interactive timeline will continue to update as more details emerge about the case:

WCNC Charlotte will continue to update this case as developments unfold.

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