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'One of the biggest red flags' | Forensic psychologist weighs in on the investigation into Madalina Cojocari's disappearance

Madalina's mother and stepfather have been in custody for more than a month, charged with felony failure to report a missing child.

CORNELIUS, N.C. — The search for missing 11-year-old Madalina Cojocari continues. Madalina was last seen publicly on Nov. 21 and wasn’t immediately reported missing. Her mother and stepfather were arrested in mid-December for failure to report a missing child and they’ve been in custody in Mecklenburg County ever since. 

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

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.

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“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."

Long is a forensic psychologist not involved in this case. She provides psychological assessments for people involved in the criminal justice system.

Long said investigators are likely in regular contact with Cojocari and Palmiter, studying their emotional responses.

“Is the parent showing concern, is the parent showing remorse,” Long said. “Those are all things that would all be considered, a person’s emotional reaction. You have to think that there is a wide range of acceptable and expected normal reactions because this isn’t a normal situation for any parent to be in.”

Police have searched their home in Cornelius, North Carolina, at least three times, taking bags of evidence with them. But learning about the environment that Madalina lived in will be key.

“It would be very important for them to consider the research with regard to protective factors and risk factors," Long said. "Some of the risk factors being prior history of mental health issues, DSS involvement, any history of incarceration, domestic violence, conflicts even between the parents, the overall adequateness of the home environment."

Long said if she were involved, she’d be looking for any inconsistencies in their stories or defensiveness.

Cornelius Police have previously said Madalina’s mother and stepfather have not been forthcoming.

“If either of the parents were choosing to not provide information or if it seems as though they didn’t want to provide certain information, especially as it relates to sensitive areas with regards to the home environment, the child’s functioning, the parent-child relationship, those are all important areas for them to consider,” she said. 

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Long said when looking at a person’s ability to parent, domestic violence or conflict between parents can be a red flag.

Cojocari told Cornelius Police she had fought with her husband the night before she last saw her daughter and she waited to report her missing because she didn’t want to cause conflict with Palmiter.

“I think that would be one of the biggest red flags more or less, looking at the person’s parenting, history of parenting,” Long said.

Diana Cojocari and Christopher Palmiter are expected to be in court on March 2.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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