Monday, April 15, 2024

Missing Fla. Girl Found Dead: Police Suspect Mother’s Boyfriend, New Details Emerge

HomeU.S.Missing Fla. Girl Found Dead: Police Suspect Mother’s Boyfriend, New Details Emerge

Madeline Soto, a 13-year-old girl from Kissimmee, Florida, has been found dead five days after being reported missing, police announced on Friday. Investigators believe her mother’s 37-year-old boyfriend, Stephan Sterns, was involved in her death and moving her body.

Soto was reported missing on Monday, February 26th after she did not arrive at Hunter’s Creek Middle School in Orlando. However, new evidence suggests she never made it to school that day and was already deceased, according to Orange County Sheriff John Mina.

“We believe she was already dead at that time and that Stephan Sterns moved her body in the early morning hours on that day,” Mina said at a press conference. “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, February 26.”

Detectives later recovered Soto’s backpack and school-issued laptop from the dumpster. Surveillance footage captured Sterns returning to the apartment complex at 8:19 am with Soto’s body visible in his vehicle, indicating she was likely already dead.

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Soto lived with her family in an apartment complex in Kissimmee where Sterns also resided. According to police, he was in a relationship with Soto’s mother. Records show Sterns has a criminal history, including burglary, theft, drug possession and domestic violence charges.

The Osceola County Sheriff’s search teams located Soto’s body around 4:30 pm on Friday in a wooded area off Hickory Tree Road. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office said they have notified her family but have released no additional details pending the ongoing homicide investigation.

Tragically, Soto’s death comes just days after she celebrated her 13th birthday on February 22nd. She was a 7th grade student at Hunter’s Creek Middle School in Orlando, where she was regarded as a bright, friendly girl with a passion for dance.

“She was so excited to become a teenager. She had her whole life ahead of her,” said friend and classmate Jenny Morris. “I don’t understand how anyone could do this to such a sweet, innocent girl. My heart breaks for her and her family.”

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The Orange County community is reeling from the devastating news, which compounds existing grief over the recent child murders in the area. Just last month, the bodies of 14-year-old Aiden Fucci and 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey were discovered in separate homicide cases that also involved teen suspects.

Soto’s death marks the latest in a worrying trend of increased violence against adolescents in the region. Community leaders are calling for action and accountability to protect the area’s youth. Candlelight vigils and memorials have been held to honor Soto’s young life.

At a press conference, Kissimmee Police Chief Betty Holland called it an “active and ongoing situation” and said “there is a lot of additional information that we cannot release at this time.”

Sterns has been transported to Osceola County Jail after being arrested last Wednesday on charges of sexual battery and possessing child sexual abuse material following a forensic examination of his phone. Detectives uncovered disturbing images and videos which Sterns attempted to delete. While the charges are not directly related to Soto’s death, Sterns remained the primary suspect.

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This tragic case reinforces the need for vigilance and reporting of inappropriate behavior towards minors. Warning signs of abuse should always be taken seriously. Soto’s fate may have been prevented if the right people had been made aware of the danger she faced.

As the investigation continues, the community mourns the devastating loss of Madeline Soto, a young life brimming with promise cut tragically short. The circumstances around her death serve as a chilling reminder that evil can lurk close to home. May justice be served for Madeline and may she rest in peace.

If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, help is available 24/7 by texting STRENGTH to 741741 or calling 1-800-422-4453. Child abuse concerns should be reported immediately by contacting local law enforcement. We all play a role in protecting the innocent and vulnerable lives that enrich our communities.

Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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