Madeline Soto’s body found days after 13-year-old disappeared

The grim find came hours after Orange County Sheriff’s Office said it was ‘confident’ teenager was dead

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Saturday 02 March 2024 01:01 GMT
News conference: Sheriff ‘confident’ Madeline Soto is dead

The body of missing 13-year-old Florida schoolgirl Madeline Soto has been found by police days after she disappeared.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office said that the teenager’s body was discovered off Hickory Tree Road in Osceola County at around 4.30pm ET on Friday.

The grim discovery came just hours after Sheriff John Mina announced that his detectives were “confident” that the youngster was dead, and alleged she had been killed by her mother’s boyfriend Stephan Sterns.

Her body was reportedly found in the same area where Mr Sterns was seen between 1pm and 2.30pm on Monday, driving his Lincoln MKZ with a flat tyre, according to authorities. Madeline’s family have been informed of the discovery, the sheriff’s office said.

The 13-year-old was reported missing on Monday morning in Kissimmee. Her mother’s boyfriend had said he had dropped her off at school, but Orange County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that she was never taken to school and that instead, they believed Stephan Sterns, 37, had killed her.

The grim find came hours after Orange County Sheriff’s Office said it was ‘confident’ teenager wa dead (Orlando Sentinel)

Sheriff John Mina told reporters that officers had met with Madeline’s mother on Thursday night to tell her they were “confident” her daughter was dead and that the search was now underway for her body.

“I wish we were here to tell you that we have found Madeline, but we have not found her,” the sheriff said at Friday’s briefing.

“Our detectives have determined that Madeline was never dropped off on the morning of February 26 near her school. Instead, we believe she was already dead.”

He explained how OCSO had video evidence which appeared to prove that, showing Mr Sterns throwing items into a dumpster behind their apartment building at around 7.35am. Those items included the teen’s backpack and her school-issued laptop.

The Kissimmee Police Department is now taking over the case, with Mr Sterns now being held on capital sexual battery charges.

Madeline was first reported missing on Monday 26 February at around 8.30am. She was described as white, 5’1”, with blonde hair and blue eyes and was wearing a green sweatshirt, black shorts and white Crocs.

After the teenager did not show up for class, it was reported that her mother only discovered she was missing when she went to pick her up later that day.

Stephan Sterns, 37, is now being held on capital sexual battery charges (Orlando Sentinel)

More than 50 law enforcement personnel spent the days following Madeline’s disappearance searching for her in nearby woodland. Officers had found messages on her phone in which she said she wanted to live in the woods when she turned 13.

In a statement released on Friday afternoon, Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Dr Maria Vazquez paid tribute to their “precious student”.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to Maddie’s family and her school community,” Dr Vazquez said. “To lose a child so suddenly and tragically is extremely difficult especially for family and friends.

“Counsellors 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.”

A prayer vigil was planned for Friday evening in response to the news.

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