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5 Things to Know: Details Emerge in Madalina Cojocari Investigation

...and four more stories from Dec. 18-24, 2023

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A young girl, Madalina Cojocari, looks up at the camera as she approached the exit of her school bus.
Surveillance footage shows Madalina Cojocari getting off the bus on Nov. 21, the last time she was seen publicly. (Still from video/Courtesy of Cornelius PD)

Details Emerge in Madalina Cojocari Investigation

Documents unsurfaced this week have revealed more details about the disappearance of Madalina Cojocari, an 11-year-old Cornelius girl who has not been seen since late November.

Madalina’s mother, Diana Cojocari, was arrested along with her husband Christopher Palmiter shortly after reporting the girl missing on Dec. 15. The couple told police they first realized Madalina was missing on Nov. 23 but did not tell authorities for more than three weeks. They’ve both been charged with failure to report the disappearance of a child. 

Following a Tuesday bond setting at which Diana’s and Palmiter’s bonds were set at $250,000 and $200,000, respectively, an arrest sheet unsurfaced that shows inconsistencies in the two stories the two have told investigators. Diana’s latest version of events states that Madalina Cojocari was last seen on Nov. 23. The arrest sheet also states that a backpack and some clothes belonging to Madalina were found to also be missing. 

Investigators released a video on Tuesday showing Madalina getting off the school bus after attending Bailey Road Middle School on Nov. 21. It is believed to be the last time the girl was seen publicly before her disappearance. The arrest sheet states Diana told police she fought with Palmiter on the last night that Madalina was seen, and that he left the home and drove to Michigan following the argument. 

Queen City News obtained an affidavit on Wednesday that states Diana claims to have called her family in their home country of Moldova to inform them of Madalina’s disappearance but refused to call the police because she believed doing so would “put her family in danger,” apparently feeling threatened by Palmiter. 

On Thursday, investigators released a handwritten letter from Madalina Cojocari’s family that thanked law enforcement and the community for its support, asking people to continue sharing photos and fliers about Madalina in the hopes that someone will come forward with information about the girl’s disappearance.

Diana Cojocari and Palmiter are both expected to appear in court on Wednesday, Dec. 28. 


County Activates Emergency Protocols for Unsheltered

In response to extreme weather forecasted through at least Monday, Mecklenburg County officials activated extreme weather protocols on Friday, including expanded hours of operation and additional capacity at area homeless shelters.

According to a release on Thursday and an update on Friday afternoon, Block Love Charlotte also opened the doors to its storage facility at 2738 N. Graham St. to serve as an additional warming station from noon-5 p.m. on Friday. The organization will continue to do so daily from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. today through Tuesday.

County officials spent Thursday visiting homeless encampments encouraging anyone living unsheltered to visit a shelter and providing information on how to access those shelters. Individuals who declined shelter were provided blankets and/or sleeping bags as needed, according to Thursday’s release.

Two people in jackets communicate with a person lying in a sleeping bag on a sidewalk under a bridge.
Volunteers with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing and Homelessness Strategy Initiative bring resources to residents struggling with homelessness on Charlotte’s streets. (Photo by Peter Safir)

Roof Above’s Day Services Center, located at 945 N. College St., will remain open until 4 p.m. today and Sunday before resuming normal operating hours on Monday. These extended hours include access to restrooms, handwashing stations, and outside radiated heaters. Roof Above provides shelter for men and expanded capacity at their shelter locations. To access shelter, men may go to Roof Above at 1210 N. Tryon St. starting at 4 p.m. Salvation Army provides shelter for women and families and expanded capacity at their shelter location. To access shelter, women and families may call 2-1-1 or go to the shelter at 534 Spratt St. between 9 a.m.–7 p.m.

Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) buses will transport individuals to the above-mentioned shelter locations free of charge. Riders must identify a designated shelter location to the drivers on routes 11 (North Tryon Street), 21 (North Tryon & Spratt streets), 22 (Spratt & North Graham streets) and 26 (Spratt Street). To help your homeless neighbors: Visit the BlockLoveCLT website for ways to donate, visit the RoofAbove website to donate items from their winter weather wish list, and/or visit the Salvation Army Charlotte website to donate new blankets and pillows.


CMS Names New Interim Superintendent

During a Zoom meeting on Tuesday, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education announced that Dr. Crystal Hill, currently the district’s chief of staff, will serve as interim superintendent during the search for a permanent candidate. Toward that goal, the Board also established a charter for a superintendent search committee.

The Board voted on Hill’s contract and the committee charter during the special meeting Tuesday night. Her contract as interim superintendent will begin Jan. 1, 2023, with a monthly salary of $21,666.67. Dr. Hill has served as chief of staff since May 2022, a role in which she oversees the offices of Strategy Management and Title IX. She is the chief adviser to the superintendent and serves as the liaison between the Board of Education and district executive staff.

Dr. Crystal Hill, the new CMS interim superintendent. (Photo courtesy of CMS)

“Serving as interim superintendent for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is a responsibility that I do not take lightly or for granted,” Hill said in a release Tuesday night. “It’s often said, ‘To whom much is given, much will be required,’ and in this role, I remain committed to making the best decisions on behalf of our students, their families, staff and this entire community.”

Hill will take over for current interim superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh, who in November announced he would be leaving the position at the end of December because of obligations related to his father’s health. Hattabaugh had been stepping in for the previous superintendent Earnest Winston, who was fired by the school board in April.

Listen to the latest episode of Queen City Nerve’s Nooze Hounds podcast to hear at-large Board of Ed rep Jennifer De La Jara’s take on Hattabaugh’s announcement, Hill’s hiring and the coming search for a permanent replacement. 


Gov. Cooper Announces Commutations

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that he has commuted the sentences of six people in North Carolina prisons and granted pardons of forgiveness to four others. Two of the commutations resulted from recommendations by the Juvenile Sentence Review Board, which Cooper established in 2021 through executive order.

Organizers with ACLU of North Carolina and Decarcerate Now have been holding vigil outside of the Governor’s Mansion since Dec. 1, and will continue to do so until Jan. 1, 2023, in protest of statewide mass incarceration.

 

“We have been standing vigil and in solidarity with our community members who are languishing in our state’s jails and prisons,” said Kristie Puckett Williams, the deputy director for engagement and mobilization and Statewide Campaign for Smart Justice manager for the ACLU of North Carolina. “This exercise of clemency is joyous, powerful, and necessary, especially for those who are now returning to their families and communities. But it is just a fraction of what we need to create a more just North Carolina. We will continue to demand that North Carolina stop using imprisonment as a catch-all response to societal issues.”

The advocates have demanded that Governor Cooper use his executive authority to grant clemency, pardons, and sentence commutations to people who are currently incarcerated — especially those who are ill, the elderly, those in prison for technical violations of parole, and those who were incarcerated as children — as well as to commute the death sentences of those on death row. The movement also advocates for people who were formerly incarcerated, calling attention to the lingering impacts of the criminal legal system in communities.


Animal Care & Control Suspends Owner Surrender Intake

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control announced Tuesday that it is suspending all intake of dogs due to owner surrenders, effective immediately.

“For the past 15 months, AC&C has sent out numerous pleas for adoptions, fosters, and breaking news about the kennels being near or over-capacity while the staff is tasked with making debilitating euthanasia decisions due to the overabundance of stray and owner-surrendered dogs coming into the shelter from the Charlotte community,” read a release sent out on Tuesday afternoon.

The Animal Care & Control shelter has been at or above capacity for much of the year. (Photo courtesy of AC&C)

At that point, AC&C was caring for 208 dogs at the shelter, 47 dogs in foster care and 27 dogs on a staycation, bringing the total number of dogs under the organization’s care to 282. Among other ways to help, you can learn how to foster or adopt a dog at the AC&C website.


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