N.C. Girl Was Last Seen Getting Off School Bus in 2022. Convicted Stepdad Says ‘She’s Not Going to Be Found’

Madalina Cojocari, 11, went missing in November 2022

Jessica Alba/Instagram Madalina Cojocari
Jessica Alba/Instagram Madalina Cojocari

It took a North Carolina jury just 14 minutes to conclude that the missing 11-year-old girl’s stepfather was guilty in a case connected with her disappearance.

Madalina Cojocari, a sixth grader who loved horses from Cornelius, N.C., was last seen walking off her school bus Nov. 21, 2022, according to police who released the surveillance footage.

Her mother, Diana Cojocari, reported her missing weeks later on December 15, PEOPLE previously reported. She allegedly blamed her husband, Christopher Palmiter, for the delay in reporting, saying she feared his reaction, according to court documents reviewed by Queen City News.

Palmiter allegedly drove to Michigan around the time of his stepdaughter’s disappearance, according to those court documents.

Madalina’s body has never been found, and two days after the belated missing person’s report, both her mother and stepfather were arrested and charged with failing to report her disappearance.

“Madalina is a beautiful, smart, kind and loving 11 year old girl with greatness in her future,” her extended family wrote in a two-page handwritten letter dated December 22, 2022, and shared by police on Facebook. “We are desperate to find her right now, she needs ALL of our help.”

According to authorities, the four-foot 10-inch girl weighed 90 lbs. and was last seen wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, jacket and pink, purple and white Adidas shoes.

Jessica Alba/Instagram Madalina Cojocari
Jessica Alba/Instagram Madalina Cojocari

Related: Parents of Missing N.C. Girl Madalina Cojocari 'Not Telling Us Everything They Know': Police

In the early days of the search, Cornelius Police Department Capt. Jennifer Thompson said in a videotaped press conference that hundreds of investigators had participated in the case, following almost 250 leads, canvassing the area and interviewing hundreds of people in North Carolina, as well as across state lines and even outside of the country. The FBI also investigated the case.

"One of the challenges in this case, simply put, we were not notified she was gone, a delay of three weeks,” Thompson said at the time.

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At trial in May, Palmiter’s defense lawyers claimed that the stepfather had been manipulated by his wife to believe Madalina was not in danger, according to Fox News.

“I think Diana took her somewhere with her Moldovan family,” Palmiter — who took the stand in his own defense — claimed to the jury, per the outlet. "I believe Diana has tucked her away somewhere where she’s not going to be found.”

But an FBI analyst testifying for the prosecution presented phone and email records suggesting Palmiter knew his stepdaughter was missing and still did not report it to authorities, per the outlet.

<p>Mecklenburg County Jail (2)</p> Diana Cojocari (left) and Christopher Palmiter (right) in mugshots.

Mecklenburg County Jail (2)

Diana Cojocari (left) and Christopher Palmiter (right) in mugshots.

Related: Mom of Missing N.C. Girl Allegedly Waited Weeks to Tell Police Because She Feared Husband's Reaction

On Friday, May 31, the Charlotte, N.C. jury found Palmiter guilty of failing to report her disappearance, The Charlotte Observer, ABC11 and WCNC report.

Madalina’s mother pleaded guilty to the same charge and was sentenced in May to six to 17 months in prison. She was subsequently released after after she served 510 days, ABC 11 reported.

A judge sentenced Palmiter to 30 months of supervised probation for his role in the girl’s disappearance, per the outlet. His lawyer said they plan to appeal the sentence.

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