CORNELIUS, N.C. — One year after Madalina Cojocari disappeared, the chief of the Cornelius Police Department said he still believes she is somewhere out there.
Chief David Baucom told Channel 9′s Hunter Sáenz he also thinks Madalina is still alive. Baucom said this past year has taken a toll on this department, but he assured Sáenz they aren’t giving up.
New banners stand outside the Cornelius Police Department now, reminding everyone the search for little Madalina Cojocari continues. Tuesday marked one year since she was last seen publicly when she was getting off a school bus.
“I just see a little 11-year-old girl who was getting off the bus just like every other kid does,” Baucom said.
He reflected on that moment and what he’s learned about Madalina over the past year.
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“She loved the outdoors. She loved going to the mountains. She loved horses. She loved playing video games,” he said. “She was just like any other typical little girl.”
It had been three weeks after she was last seen when a school resource officer and counselor got involved. Then, Madalina was reported missing. Two days after that, her mother, Diana Cojocari, and stepfather, Christopher Palmiter, were arrested for failing to report her missing.
Since then, Baucom’s department has been throwing everything they have at the case. At least eight of his detectives are working it, along with agents assigned to the case from the State Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Baucom said it’s a mass effort that never really leaves them.
“It’s taken a toll on me, personally and professionally, and really the department as a whole,” Baucom said. “We have poured our heart and soul into this investigation, from the top down.”
He said the case hits home for him as a dad and as a chief.
“It’s tough... as a parent and as a leader of an agency, but I do my best to stay strong and keep a positive attitude,” he said. “And my mindset is we’re going to find Madalina and we won’t stop until we do.”
“I think as humans, as parents, as police officers, we want to protect children,” he went on to say. “And if we don’t know where they’re at or don’t know that they’re safe, then we want to find them. We want to help them, we want to do everything we can to be involved.”
Baucom can’t comment on specifics about the case because he doesn’t want to jeopardize the ongoing work of his officers. He wasn’t able to tell Sáenz whether Diana Cojocari or Christopher Palmiter had anything to do with Madalina’s disappearance or whether there could be a significant break in the case soon.
But Baucom was forthcoming with Sáenz in other ways, telling him this case eats at him.
“Why does it get to you like that?” Sáenz asked.
“I think it’s because I care so deeply about this community and this department, and I see the strain this investigation has taken on everyone,” Baucom said. “And we just want to find Madalina.”
“Do you still have hope, personally, that she’s alive out there?” Sáenz asked.
“I do,” Baucom said.
Diana Cojocari remains in jail.
Christopher Palmiter bonded out in August. Sáenz tried to pay him a visit Tuesday to see if he wanted to say anything on the anniversary of Madalina’s disappearance, but “no trespassing” signs were posted around his property.
On Tuesday night, people in Cornelius will gather to pray for Madalina’s safe return. Read our full coverage here.
Baucom said on the one-year mark of Madalina’s disappearance, he wanted to continue to draw attention to her case.
“Today, to me, is all about Madalina. It’s bringing attention to her case,” he said.
“We all have a common goal, and that’s to find Madalina.”
(WATCH BELOW: Madalina Cojocari’s stepdad posts bond, records show; both parents plead not guilty)
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