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'These dogs are very, very important to criminal cases' | SBI K-9 units part of search at Madalina Cojocari's house

It's the first time neighbors have seen investigators back on their street in several weeks.

CORNELIUS, N.C. — Despite few details being released from Cornelius Police, the search for missing 11-year-old Madalina Cojocari continues. 

Cornelius Police, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations, its K-9 unit and a Mecklenburg County Assistant District Attorney were at the Cojocari house on Tuesday night, WCNC Charlotte has confirmed.

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A town spokesperson said finding Madalina remains the department’s top priority and they are working to ensure they complete a thorough investigation.

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Wednesday marked 86 days since she was last seen publicly. That was on Nov. 21, when she was seen on video getting off her school bus. Her parents did not report her missing for three more weeks and her mother, Diana Cojocari, and stepfather, Christopher Palmiter, have been in custody for since mid-December for failure to report a missing child. It is a felony offense.

Some neighbors were worried the investigation into where the missing 11-year-old was slowing down because the street had been quiet for weeks. A neighbor told WCNC Charlotte’s Chloe Leshner investigators were on the street for about two hours on Tuesday and they saw them with a German shepherd.

Jack Thorpe, a K-9 handler who is not involved in this case, spoke with WCNC Charlotte on the phone. He said K-9 units are a critical tool at many different stages of a missing persons case.

“Going into a house week and months later is absolutely possible, we do it all the time. It’s typical actually,” he said.

Thorpe is the director of the North Carolina Trooper’s Association K-9 Search and Rescue Unit. It’s a nonprofit made up of K-9 handlers who are called in to assist in state and federal investigations. The organization has not been contacted in this case.

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Thorpe has been a handler for more than two decades, his K-9 specializes in finding human remains.

“95% of what we do for law enforcement is we clear the area for them and say it’s not likely that a body is on this property,” Thorpe said. “You keep eliminating places with the investigative tools that you have. That might be cell phone information, it could be somebody like a criminal informant telling the police department you may want to check here and then we bring a dog out there and confirm it or quash it. These dogs are very, very important to criminal cases.”

Cornelius officials did not confirm any more information about why they were back at the house or if they found anything substantial, just that the SBI brought their K-9 unit.

According to the SBI website, they have 18 dogs in the program, each with a specialized skill. The department has dogs who can detect drugs, explosives, accelerants or human remains. 

Cornelius officials said K-9s have been used in this investigation “several” times.

Neighbors say they saw a beagle with investigators in December.

Diana Cojocari and Christopher Palmiter are due back in court on March 2.

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

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