CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Surveillance photos obtained by North Carolina police showed a man and girl who was "physically consistent with" a description of missing 12-year-old Madalina Cojocari after her disappearance, according to recently unsealed search warrants.
Madalina was last seen at school in late November 2022, but her mother and stepfather – Diana Cojocari and Christopher Palmiter – did not report the then-11-year-old girl missing to police until Dec. 15 of that year.
Newly unsealed warrant applications reveal, however, that Diana sent a text message on Dec. 2, 2022, indicating that "she was in the presence of the missing child," police wrote. Two days later, on Dec. 4, 2022, Cojocari drove to the mountains of North Carolina "claiming to be searching for Madalina."
"On December 3, 2022, Diana was seen at a service station in Hickory, North Carolina, getting an oil change in her car. The attendant verified that while children's toys were in the car, no minor child (Madalina) was seen inside the car," police wrote in the Dec. 19, 2022, warrant application.
Madalina Cojocari of Cornelius, North Carolina, was last seen around Nov. 23. 2022. (Cornelius Police Department)
The document continued, "On December 16, 2022, Sugar Mountain Police Department provided surveillance photographs of a man and a young female. The man in the surveillance images was physically consistent in appearance with Octavian Cebanu, the only blood relative known to live in the United States. The young female in the surveillance images was physically consistent with the missing child, Madalina Cojocari."
A search warrant released in March revealed that Cojocari contacted Cebanu to help smuggle both her and her daughter from their Cornelius home before the 11-year-old disappeared.
Cojocari and her mother – Madalina's grandmother – contacted Cebanu asking if he would help in "smuggling" herself and Madalina from their home, according to phone records obtained by the Cornelius Police Department.
"She told him she was in a bad relationship with co-defendant Christopher Palmiter and wanted a divorce," the warrant states.
Cebanu's phone allegedly had multiple "calls to phone numbers belonging to unidentified subjects involved in ongoing…drug/narcotics investigations," according to the warrant.
READ THE WARRANT APPLICATION:
In December, authorities arrested and charged Cojocari and Palmiter with failure to report a missing child to law enforcement after Madalina's disappearance from her hometown in Cornelius, which is just north of Charlotte.
Cojocari told police last year that she had not seen her daughter since she went to her bedroom the night of Nov. 23 around 10 p.m. after she and her husband, Palmiter, got into an argument, court documents state. On Nov. 24, Palmiter drove to his relatives' home in Michigan "to recover some items" after an argument with his wife.
In December, authorities arrested and charged Diana Cojocari and Christopher Palmiter with failure to report a missing child to law enforcement after Madalina's disappearance from her hometown in Cornelius, North Carolina around Nov. 23, 2022. (Mecklenburg County Detention Center)
Cojocari said she went into her daughter's room around 11:30 that morning to discover that the 11-year-old was gone.
Security camera footage from a Cornelius school bus showed the girl exiting the bus Nov. 21 — the last day Madalina, a 6th grader, showed up for class at Bailey Middle School — around 5 p.m.
"Ms. Cojocari and Mr. Palmiter were adamant they did not know where Madalina could be," the warrant applications state.
Both parents continue to deny any knowledge regarding Madalina's whereabouts.
"During a recorded jail call between Christopher Palmiter, his brother and sister in law [sic], Palmiter mentions Cojocari had a lot of cash with her and he didn't know where it came from," authorities wrote.
In another recorded jail call between Cojocari and her mother, "the women discuss a bag with money, withdrawing cash, and a theory that Chris gave the girl away for money," police said.
Police have requested warrants to access Cojocari's and Palmiter's vehicles, bank records, notebooks, emails, an old hard drive, Apple accounts, vehicles and other personal items. They have also collected multiple items from their Cornelius home, including hair.
Authorities are asking anyone with information about Madalina's whereabouts to contact the CPD at 704-892-7773. The FBI is also involved in the search for the missing girl.