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Missing Kissimmee teen girl found dead off remote Osceola County road, deputies say

Madeline Soto
Posted at 3:25 PM, Mar 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-01 18:30:48-05

UPDATE (6:15 p.m.): The Orange County Sheriff's Office says they have found the body of 13-year-old Madeline Soto. She was found in a wooded area off Hickory Tree Road in Osceola County on Friday afternoon.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office is "confident" that Madeline Soto, a 13-year-old girl who was reported missing earlier this week, is dead.

According to FOX affiliate WOFL, the update came during a Friday afternoon press conference from Orange County Sheriff John Mina, who said deputies told the "devastating news" to Madeline Soto's mother Jenn Soto on Thursday night.

Sheriff Mina said detectives believe Jenn Soto's boyfriend Stephan Sterns, who was arrested on Wednesday night on unrelated charges and was named the "prime suspect" in this case, is to blame. Deputies believe that Madeline Soto was never dropped off at Hunter's Creek Middle School on Monday morning, and was dead before then. They also said Sterns allegedly moved her body in the morning hours of that day after killing her in Kissimmee.

North Port Police tell Fox 4 they have been asked by the Orange County Sheriff's Office and Kissimmee Police to assist in the investigation. Fox 4 is looking into connections that Sterns may have to the North Port area.

"We believe he moved her body in those early morning hours, and all that is still under investigation," Sheriff Mina said.

Video evidence shows Sterns discarding items in a dumpster at a Kissimmee apartment complex at 7:45 a.m. on Monday, which was later recovered and identified as Madeline Soto's backpack and school-issued laptop.

WOFL reports there's also video evidence of Sterns returning to his neighborhood, with Madeline Soto visible in that vehicle. Sheriff Mina, however, said that the teenager was already dead at this time.

Officials are working to find and recover Soto's body, and they will continue to search in areas not disclosed by Sheriff Mina at Friday's press conference.

"Searches are continuing as we speak, and we have people who are working nonstop. So every lead that comes in, every piece of evidence that we receive, we're gonna follow up on that, and if that leads us to a new search area, we'll be out all weekend," Sheriff Mina said.

As reported by Fox 35, Sterns was arrested on Wednesday night on sexual battery and child sex abuse material possession charges. On Friday morning, he was transferred from the Orange County Jail to Osceola County. As of Friday afternoon, Sterns has not spoken to anyone about his alleged involvement in the case. More charges could be brought about Sterns in the future, but that's still under investigation, according to the Kissimmee Police Department.

Officials are in contact with Jenn Soto and do not have a reason to believe at this time that she is a suspect in this case.

He was last seen driving a silver 2010 Lincoln MKZ with Florida tag IYLL82 on Monday between 1 and 2:30 p.m. in the area of State Road 192 and Old Hickory Tree Road, as well as Old Hickory Tree Road and Nolte Road. Police believe during this time frame, Sterns had a flat tire and might have been seen changing it in this area.

Even though the initial missing persons case began in Orange County, the Kissimmee Police Department will take over the case – which is now a homicide investigation – since she was believed to have been killed in that city. OSCO will continue to assist as they work to recover Madeline Soto's body.

Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Maria Vazquez shared the following statement about the death of Madeline Soto:

"I am heartbroken to hear from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office of the tragic death of our precious student, Madeline Soto. My thoughts and prayers go out to Maddie’s family and her school community. To lose a child so suddenly and tragically is extremely difficult especially for family and friends. Counselors continue to be available for any student or staff member dealing with the news. I ask that you keep the entire Hunter’s Creek Middle School community in your prayers as they grieve the loss of one of their own."

To do this, officials are asking the public's help. If anyone has video footage or remembers seeing Madeline Soto, Stephan Sterns or his car, contact Crimeline at 800-423-8477.