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North Carolina Police Still Searching For Missing Madalina Cojocari, And Suspect Drug Or Human Trafficking Ties
Cornelius Police Chief David Baucom asserts that the missing persons case of 11-year-old Madalina Cojocari is "not a cold case," months after her disappearance. New evidence uncovered at her family's home suggests to police that drug or human trafficking may be involved.
Although she hasn't been seen since last November, police in the North Carolina town of Cornelius have yet to give up on the search for missing 11-year-old Madalina Cojocari.
Last Tuesday, Cornelius Police Chief David Baucom asserted at a public event that Madalina's disappearance was "not a cold case," according to local outlet WSOC.
"We have detectives working this case every single day," he said. "We just can't talk about it. Just because we're not talking about it, doesn't mean we're not doing anything."
The girl was last seen publicly stepping off her school bus at 4:59 p.m. on Nov. 21 of 2022 in footage obtained by the department. Madalina's mother, Diana Cojocari, said she last saw her daughter when she went to bed on Nov. 23, according to police, but the mom did not report the girl missing until Dec. 15.
Several days earlier, on Dec. 12, a counselor and resource officer from Bailey Middle School got no answer when making a welfare check at the home of the girl, who hadn't attended school since Nov. 21.
The girl's mother and stepfather, Christopher Palmiter, were indicted by a grand jury in January for failing to report the girl's disappearance to law enforcement. Now, arrest warrants obtained by WCNC indicate that police are pursuing leads related to drug and human trafficking.
Search warrants carried out on the parents' home and vehicle in mid-February indicated that drug trafficking may be involved in the girl's disappearance, according to the outlet.
A drug-sniffing dog reportedly "alerted on the driver's side door" of Diana Cojocari's Toyota Prius on Feb. 13.
After her daughter was last seen and before reporting the girl's disappearance, police believe Diana may have taken a trip to Madison County, North Carolina in that Prius, and are still seeking out anyone who may have seen the woman or her vehicle between Nov. 22 and Dec. 15.
Diana Cojocari asked a distant relative to "smuggle" her and her daughter away from her husband, telling him she was in a "bad relationship" and wanted a divorce, according to a search warrant obtained by Law & Crime. Phone records reviewed by police showed "extensive communication" between that relative and Madalina's mother on Dec. 2 of last year.
Meanwhile, that relative's phone records showed "multiple calls to phone numbers belonging to unidentified targets involved in ongoing T3 drug/narcotic trafficking investigations," according to earlier reporting by WCNC.
Madalina's mother and Palmiter argued on Nov. 23, according to Law & Crime. The next morning, the man drove away to his family's house in Michigan. The girl's mother told police she noticed that her daughter was missing on Thanksgiving, which was Nov. 24, but did not contact her husband until Nov. 26.
When police asked the mother why she didn't report the girl missing right away, she replied that she "was worried it might start a 'conflict' between her and [Palmiter]," according to court documents reviewed by the outlet.
Palmiter allegedly told police that he left on Nov. 23, but hadn't seen the girl for about a week before his trip. When he returned, he allegedly claimed that he'd asked Diana if she was hiding the girl, and she said no but asked if he was. He allegedly also said he wasn't.
In a December press release, Cornelieus Police Department Captain Jennifer Thompson characterized the vexing case as “a serious case of a child whose parents clearly are not telling us everything they know."
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cathom said she was glad police are "working on [the case] constantly ... and don't consider it a cold case" after Tuesday's event.
“I know everyone misses her — her family and her friends at her school,” Cotham said. “So, hopefully she’ll be returned soon.”
Baucom said he was confident that the girl would ultimately be found.
“We’re going to find Madalina. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but we’re not going to stop," he said.