CORNELIUS, N.C. — A search for a missing 11-year-old girl that made national headlines last year may have been prompted by a school policy put in place to protect kids just like her.
The FBI shared video of Madalina Cojocari getting off a school bus in November 2022, but court documents obtained by Channel 9 show her mother didn’t report Madalina missing until 22 days later.
Authorities eventually charged her mother, Diana Cojocari, and stepfather, Christopher Palmiter, with failure to report the disappearance of a child.
In an exclusive interview with Channel 9, Madalina’s school resource officer explained more about the policy executed by school officials.
“We have kids that miss a bunch of days all the time,” said Officer John Nobles, the school resource officer at Bailey. “I don’t normally get pulled in until I can articulate a safety reason or welfare of the child.”
When Madalina got off her school bus on Nov. 21, 2022, investigators say it was the last time anyone saw her at Bailey Middle School in Cornelius. But long before flyers and yellow bows for her went up across town, Madalina’s school raised the red flag to begin the search for her.
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“To me, a school resource officer is the most important position in law enforcement,” Nobles said. “The responsibility of taking care of other people’s kids, and keeping them safe.”
He can’t speak directly to Madalina’s case. However, court documents show he and the school counselor went to Madalina’s home on Dec. 12 to check on her, but no one answered the door.
According to court documents, Madalina’s mom then called the counselor to set up a meeting about her daughter, promising to bring Madalina to school. When her mom showed up for that meeting on Dec. 15, she reported her daughter missing, according to those court documents. That’s 22 days after Madalina was last seen.
The home visit is part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ truancy policy, which requires intervention and notifications to parents if a student misses at least 10 days of school.
Officer Nobles said on those visits, he’s looking for signs of neglect, abuse, or anything suspicious.
“That’s part of keeping them safe and protecting them,” he said.
Madalina was just three months into the school year as a sixth grader when she vanished. Out of roughly 1,300 kids, Officer Nobles said he didn’t know her well, but many of his students did.
“I imagine there was probably some hard conversations,” Channel 9′s Anthony Kustura said.
“You can imagine the whirlwind of emotions,” Nobles said.
Everyone at Bailey Middle wrapped up the last year with little to no answers in the search for Madalina, and then the holidays came. Not long afterward, Madalina’s birthday passed.
Still, investigators say they’re following up on hundreds of leads and are hopeful for a break in the case. Officer Nobles is holding on to that hope too as he prepares for another school year -- not just for him, or even for Madalina, but for all of her young classmates.
“I have hope so I lead with hope,” he said. “They’re going to follow that naturally.”
“I think we all want it to be resolved in a good way and to move forward as a community,” he added.
Madalina’s mother and stepfather, Diana Cojocari and Christopher Palmiter, are both in the Mecklenburg County jail accused of failing to report a missing child. Investigators searched the home repeatedly, combed Lake Cornelius, and asked residents of Madison County to come forward who saw Diana or her car around the dates Madalina vanished.
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