Florida authorities locate body of 13-year-old Madeline Soto

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (Gray News) – Florida officials confirmed Friday afternoon that they have located Madeline Soto’s body.

The Kissimmee Police Department and Orange County Sheriff’s Office said the body of the 13-year-old, who went missing on Monday, was found in a wooded area following a coordinated search near Hickory Tree Road.

Madeline’s family has been notified of the discovery.

In a news conference on Friday, Orange County Sheriff John Mina said that detectives discovered video evidence that led them to the area where they were “confident” the teen’s body was.

Madeline’s mother’s boyfriend, 37-year-old Stephan Sterns, is the prime suspect in the case, officials said.

Officials said Sterns was the last person to confirm seeing Madeline on Monday morning.

Authorities said Madeline had just turned 13 years old before she was reported missing.

Police said Sterns was supposed to drop off Madeline at school in the morning, but staff members at Hunter’s Creek Middle School in Orlando said she never arrived.

“Our detectives have determined that Madeline was never dropped off the morning of Feb. 26 near her school,” Mina said. “Instead, we believe she was already dead at the time, and that Stephan Sterns moved her body in the early hours of that day.”

During Friday’s news conference, Mina said video evidence shows Sterns throwing away items in a dumpster at the family’s apartment complex in Kissimmee at 7:35 a.m. on Monday morning.

Investigators later searched the dumpster and found Madeline’s backpack and her school-issued laptop.

Less than an hour after Sterns was seen throwing away items in the dumpster, video from 8:19 a.m. shows Sterns returning to the apartment complex with Madeline visible in the car with him. Mina said investigators believe Madeline was already dead at the time.

On Wednesday, Kissimmee police arrested Sterns for sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material.

Detectives wrote in a Facebook post that they “discovered those disturbing images and videos when they forensically examined Sterns’ phone. The review of his phone also revealed attempts to delete evidence.”

Detectives determined the documented sex crimes were committed inside the family’s apartment.

Mina said that as of Friday afternoon, Sterns has “not spoken to anyone” about the case.

Sterns is being held at the Osceola County Jail for the sex abuse charges. As of Friday afternoon, he has not yet been charged in Madeline’s death.

According to jail records, he is being held without bond.

Officials have not said if Madeline’s mother will be facing any charges, but Mina said she is “not a suspect in this case.”

The Kissimmee Police Department is taking over the investigation as the lead agency.

Authorities are asking anyone with information about the case to call Kissimmee police at 407-846-3333, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office at 407) 254-7000, or submit an anonymous tip to Crimeline at 800-423-TIPS.


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