Girl, 11, vanished after getting off school bus over a year ago. Now her mother has pleaded guilty to failing to report her missing

Madalina Cojocari’s mother said she ‘hopes she is safe’ after release from a North Carolina jail

Katie Hawkinson
Wednesday 22 May 2024 21:16
Diana Cojocari pleads guilty to failing to report her eleven-year-old daughter missing in 2022

The mother of a missing North Carolina girl said she ‘hopes she is safe’ after she pleaded guilty to charges that she failed to report the disappearance of her middle-school-aged daughter.

Madalina Cojocari was eleven years old when she was last seen getting off her school bus in November 2022. A month later, her mother Diana Cojocari and her stepfather Christopher Palmiter were arrested after they only reported her missing two days prior.

Now, more than a year later and with Madalina’s whereabouts still unknown, Ms Cojocari pleaded guilty on Monday to one felony charge of failing to report her daughter as missing. She had initially pleaded not guilty to the charge before reversing course and entering a new plea.

Ms Cojocari, who is not an American citizen, faces deportation to Moldova after changing her plea, local outlet WCNC reports. She has remained in jail since 2022 under a $250,000 bond.

She was released from jail on Tuesday and was asked by a WSOC-TV reporter if Madalina was “safe” and if she knew her whereabouts.

“I hope so,” she replied.

“You hope, you know where she is?” she was then asked by reporter Hannah Goetz. “I hope she is safe,” Ms Cojocari said.

Meanwhile, Mr Palmiter pleaded not guilty to the same charge. He was released from jail in August after posting a $25,000 bond. His trial began Tuesday.

Diana Cojocari (left) and Christopher Palmiter (right) pictured in booking photos after they were arrested on charges of failing to report Madalina Cojocari missing. Ms Cojocari pleaded guilty to the felony charge on Monday (Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office)

Mr Palmiter’s trial begins 18 months after Madalina disappeared.

The eleven-year-old was last publicly seen on 21 November 2022 via surveillance footage of her stepping off a school bus. Her mother told investigators she saw Madalina at home two days later when she went to bed. Ms Cojocari claims her daughter was gone the next morning.

For the next several weeks, Madalina’s school contacted her parents about her whereabouts. Ms Cojocari reported her daughter’s disappearance on 15 December to a school resource officer. Ms Cojocari and Mr Palmiter were arrested two days later.

In December 2022, Ms Cojocari claimed she did not report her daughter missing because she believed it would start a conflict between her and Mr Palmiter.

Madalina Cojocari, pictured, has been missing since 2022. Her stepfather has pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of failing to report her missing (Cornelius PD)

Investigators said at the time Ms Cojocari may have gone on a trip before reporting her missing. They also say she asked a distant relative if he would help with “smuggling” her and Madalina away to escape her “bad relationship” with Mr Palmiter.

Court documents obtained by WCNC indicate law enforcement officers spoke with Ms Cojocari’s cousin, who said Madalina and her mother were in trouble from a third party unrelated to Mr Palmiter. They were attempting to flee the country after plans to stay with Mr Palmiter’s relatives fell through, Ms Cojocari’s cousin told police, according to WCNC.

Mr Palmiter’s defense claims the prosecution failed to disclose the conversation with Ms Cojocari’s cousin, as well as other pieces of key evidence, until recently.

“The defense fails to understand how providing the entire file could compromise information that is now a year-and-a-half stale,” Mr Palmiter’s defense team said, per WCNC.

The prosecution has pushed back, claiming the evidence was not relevant to the charge at hand.

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