Missing Fla. Girl Madeline Soto, 13, Found Dead, Police Suspect Mother’s Boyfriend Moved Her Body

Madeline Soto was reported missing on Monday

<p>orange county/orange</p> Madeline Soto

orange county/orange

Madeline Soto

The dead body of Madeline Soto was found dead in a wooden area five days after the 13-year-old was reported missing, and police suspect her mother's boyfriend moved her body.

Florida's Orange County Sheriff's Office announced the news hours after sharing during a press conference on Friday that they were "confident" Soto was dead.

The sheriff's office said that search teams from the Osceola County Sheriff's Office located her body at about 4:30 p.m. in a wooded area off Hickory Tree Road and that Madeline's family had been notified.

"We have no additional information to release at this time. Kissimmee PD is the lead agency in this homicide investigation. That work continues," the update said.

<p>GoFundMe</p> Madeline Soto


Madeline Soto

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News of her death comes days after she celebrated her 13th birthday on Feb. 22, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

Madeline and her family lived in an apartment in Kissimmee, Fla. and she attended school in Hunter’s Creek Middle School in Orlando, according to NBC News.

Although it was believed that Madeline was last seen on her way to school, Orange County Sheriff John W. Mina said during the press conference that detectives determined that Madeline was never dropped off by her mother's boyfriend, Stephan Sterns, 37.

"Instead, we believe she was already dead at the time and that Stephan Sterns moved her body in the early morning hours on that day. We have video evidence that shows Stephen Sterns discarding items in a dumpster in that apartment complex in Kissimmee at 7:35 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 26," Mina said.

Flyer showing Madeline Soto and suspect Stephan Sterns
Flyer showing Madeline Soto and suspect Stephan Sterns

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"Detectives later recovered Madeline's backpack and her school-issued laptop from that dumpster. At 8:19 a.m., we have evidence that shows Stephan Sterns returning to the complex, and Madeline was visible in that vehicle," continued Mina. "We believe she was already dead at that time."

Kissimmee Police Chief Betty Holland said that the case remains an "active and ongoing situation" and that "there is a lot of additional information that we cannot release at this time."

According to Holland, Sterns was transported from the Orange County Jail to the Osceola County Jail.

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Sterns had been arrested and charged with sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material by Kissimmee Police on Wednesday. Although the charges were not connected to Madeline's case, police said he was the prime suspect in her case.

According to a previous update from the Orange County Sheriff's Office, detectives found "disturbing images and videos" when they forensically examined his phone and learned that he attempted to delete evidence.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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