MADISON COUNTY, N.C. — The investigation and search for a missing 11-year-old girl from Cornelius is expanding across North Carolina. The Cornelius Police Department is now asking anyone who saw Madalina Cojocari’s mom or a Toyota Prius in Madison County to come forward.
Madison County is located in the North Carolina mountains close to the Tennessee border -- nearly a three-hour drive from west Cornelius.
Cornelius police said Madalina’s mother, Diana Cojocari, made a trip to Madison County in the weeks between when Madalina was last seen and the day she was reported missing. Police said they’re looking for firsthand information from anyone who saw the Prius or Diana Cojocari in the county between Nov. 22 and Dec. 15.
Madalina was reported missing to police on Dec. 15. Police said her last confirmed sighting was on Nov. 21.
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Channel 9’s Dave Faherty spent Friday in the mountains of Madison County, where sources told him deputies had spotted Diana Cojocari near Lonesome Mountain. She was seen at a pull-off area west of Marshall when a deputy stopped to check on her.
People in the area told Faherty both the State Bureau of Investigation and Cornelius police had been out there twice during the last 10 days, even knocking on doors and showing pictures of Diana and Madalina Cojocari. Neighbors said they spotted SBI agents and police with search dogs along Lonesome Mountain Road.
Just down the road, Johnny Moore put up a missing persons flyer for Madalina on the front door of his business Friday.
“I hope they find something. They said she had relatives in here somewhere and they were looking for her over in there,” he told Faherty.
Sheriff Buddy Harwood confirmed to Faherty that both Cornelius police and SBI agents had indeed been in Madison County working the case with his deputies. He said he couldn’t talk about the ongoing investigation, but did explain the challenges law enforcement faces there.
“A lot of places are very remote,” Sheriff Harwood said. “We’ve got 467 square miles of county and it’s a big area.”
For the past 45 years, Harold Gosnell has lived along Lonesome Mountain Road. Like many there, he heard about the investigation after Madalina was last seen getting off her school bus just before Thanksgiving in Cornelius.
“Well this stuff has never happened before,” he said.
Police said the 11-year old’s parents, who are now in jail, waited 22 days before reporting her missing. This week, prosecutors said a statute was violated after the Cornelius girl’s mother and stepfather, Christopher Palmiter, failed to report her disappearance. The pair was indicted by a grand jury Tuesday on the charge of failing to report the disappearance of a child to law enforcement.
In Madison County, the sheriff is asking people on his Facebook page to call authorities if they saw Madalina’s mother or her Toyota Prius.
“It’s huge. It’s rural,” resident Adelaide Smith said. “There’s a lot of area here if people are looking in this area now.”
Faherty found out from law enforcement sources that when the deputy interacted with Madalina’s mother, the 11-year-old was not in the car at the time. Faherty is working to learn when this encounter happened.
Channel 9 hasn’t been able to find any of her family in Madison County yet.
If you have any information about where Madalina Cojocari might be, call the Cornelius Police Department at (704) 892-7773 or the FBI at 1-800-CALL FBI.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
(WATCH BELOW: Parents of missing Cornelius girl violated ‘Caylee’s Law,’ prosecutors say)
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